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Title: Mary Wollstonecraft
Author: Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, 1855-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  _Copyright, 1884_,



Comparatively little has been written about the life of MARY
WOLLSTONECRAFT. The two authorities upon the subject are Godwin and Mr.
C. Kegan Paul. In writing the following Biography I have relied chiefly
upon the Memoir written by the former, and the Life of Godwin and
Prefatory Memoir to the Letters to Imlay of the latter. I have endeavored
to supplement the facts recorded in these books by a careful analysis of
Mary Wollstonecraft's writings and study of the period in which she

I must here express my thanks to Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, and
to Mr. C. Kegan Paul, for the kind assistance they have given me in my
work. To the first named of these gentlemen I am indebted for the loan of
a manuscript containing some particulars of Mary Wollstonecraft's last
illness which have never yet appeared in print, and to Mr. Paul for the
gift, as well as the loan, of several important books.

  E. R. P.
  LONDON, August, 1884.



  INTRODUCTION                                   1


     I. CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YOUTH. 1759-1778    12

    II. FIRST YEARS OF WORK. 1778-1785          30

   III. LIFE AS GOVERNESS. 1786-1788            60

    IV. LITERARY LIFE. 1788-1791                85

     V. LITERARY WORK. 1788-1791               117


   VII. VISIT TO PARIS. 1792-1793              171

  VIII. LIFE WITH IMLAY. 1793-1794             198

    IX. IMLAY'S DESERTION. 1794-1795           218

     X. LITERARY WORK. 1793-1796               248

    XI. RETROSPECTIVE. 1794-1796               280

   XII. WILLIAM GODWIN                         290


   XIV. LAST MONTHS: DEATH. 1797               340



Few women have worked so faithfully for the cause of humanity as Mary
Wollstonecraft, and few have been the objects of such bitter censure. She
devoted herself to the relief of her suffering fellow-beings with the
ardor of a Saint Vincent de Paul, and in return she was considered by
them a moral scourge of God. Because she had the courage to express
opinions new to her generation, and the independence to live according to
her own standard of right and wrong, she was denounced as another
Messalina. The young were bidden not to read her books, and the more
mature warned not to follow her example, the miseries she endured being
declared the just retribution of her actions. Indeed, the infamy attached
to her name is almost incredible in the present age, when new theories
are more patiently criticised, and when purity of motive has been
accepted as the vindication of at least one well-known breach of social
laws. The malignant attacks made upon her character since her death have
been too great to be ignored. They had best be stated here, that the life
which follows may serve as their refutation.

As a rule, the notices which were published after she was dead were
harsher and more uncompromising than those written during her lifetime.
There were happily one or two exceptions. The writer of her obituary
notice in the "Monthly Magazine" for September, 1797, speaks of her in
terms of unlimited admiration.

"This extraordinary woman," he writes, "no less distinguished by
admirable talents and a masculine tone of understanding, than by active
humanity, exquisite sensibility, and endearing qualities of heart,
commanding the respect and winning the affections of all who were favored
with her friendship or confidence, or who were within the sphere of her
influence, may justly be considered as a public loss. Quick to feel, and
indignant to resist, the iron hand of despotism, whether civil or
intellectual, her exertions to awaken in the minds of her oppressed sex a
sense of their degradation, and to restore them to the dignity of reason
and virtue, were active and incessant; by her impassioned reasoning and
glowing eloquence, the fabric of voluptuous prejudice has been shaken to
its foundation and totters towards its fall; while her philosophic mind,
taking a wider range, perceived and lamented in the defects of civil
institutions interwoven in their texture and inseparable from them the
causes of those partial evils, destructive to virtue and happiness, which
poison social intercourse and deform domestic life." Her eulogist
concludes by calling her the "ornament of her sex, the enlightened
advocate for freedom, and the benevolent friend of humankind."

It is more than probable, however, that this was written by a personal
friend; for a year later the same magazine, in its semi-annual
retrospect of British literature, expressed somewhat altered opinions.
This time it says: "It is not for us to vindicate Mary Godwin from the
charge of multiplied immorality which is brought against her by the
candid as well as the censorious, by the sagacious as well as the
superstitious observer. Her character in our estimation is far from being
entitled to unqualified praise; she had many faults; she had many
transcendent virtues. But she is now dead, and we shall

    'No farther seek her merits to disclose,
      Or draw her frailties from the dread abode;
    There they alike in trembling hope repose,
      The bosom of her father and her God!'"

The notice in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for October, 1797, the month
after her death, is friendly, but there are limitations to its praise.
The following is the sentence it passed upon her: "Her manners were
gentle, easy, and elegant; her conversation intelligent and amusing,
without the least trait of literary pride, or the apparent consciousness
of powers above the level of her sex; and, for fondness of understanding
and sensibility of heart, she was, perhaps, never equalled. Her practical
skill in education was ever superior to her speculations upon that
subject; nor is it possible to express the misfortune sustained in that
respect by her children. This tribute we readily pay to her character,
however adverse we may be to the system she supported in politics and
morals, both by her writings and practice."

In 1798 Godwin published his Memoir of Mary, together with her posthumous
writings. He no doubt hoped by a clear statement of the principal
incidents of her life to moderate the popular feeling against her. But he
was the last person to have undertaken the task. Outside of the small
circle of friends and sympathizers who really loved him, he was by no
means popular. There were some who even seemed to think that the greatest
hardship of Mary's life was to have been his wife. Thus Roscoe, after
reading the Memoir, expressed the sentiments it aroused in him in the
following lines:--

    "Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life,
    As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife;
    But harder still thy fate in death we own,
    Thus mourned by Godwin with a heart of stone."

Moreover, Godwin's views about marriage, as set forth in his "Political
Justice," were held in such abhorrence that the fact that he approved of
Mary's conduct was reason enough for the multitude to disapprove of it.
His book, therefore, was not a success as far as Mary's reputation was
concerned. Indeed, it increased rather than lessened the asperity of her
detractors. It was greeted by the "European Magazine" for April, 1798,
almost immediately after its publication, by one of the most scathing
denunciations of Mary's character which had yet appeared.

"The lady," the article begins, "whose memoirs are now before us, appears
to have possessed good abilities, and originally a good disposition, but,
with an overweening conceit of herself, much obstinacy and self-will, and
a disposition to run counter to established practices and opinions. Her
conduct in the early part of her life was blameless, if not exemplary;
but the latter part of it was blemished with actions which must consign
her name to posterity (in spite of all palliatives) as one whose example,
if followed, would be attended with the most pernicious consequences to
society: a female who could brave the opinion of the world in the most
delicate point; a philosophical wanton, breaking down the bars designed
to restrain licentiousness; and a mother, deserting a helpless offspring
disgracefully brought into the world by herself, by an intended act of
suicide." Here follows a short sketch of the incidents recorded by
Godwin, and then the article concludes: "Such was the catastrophe of a
female philosopher of the new order, such the events of her life, and
such the apology for her conduct. It will be read with disgust by every
female who has any pretensions to delicacy; with detestation by every one
attached to the interests of religion and morality; and with indignation
by any one who might feel any regard for the unhappy woman, whose
frailties should have been buried in oblivion. Licentious as the times
are, we trust it will obtain no imitators of the heroine in this country.
It may act, however, as a warning to those who fancy themselves at
liberty to dispense with the laws of propriety and decency, and who
suppose the possession of perverted talents will atone for the well
government of society and the happiness of mankind."

This opinion of the "European Magazine" was the one most generally
adopted. It was re-echoed almost invariably when Mary Wollstonecraft's
name was mentioned in print. A Mrs. West, who, in 1801, published a
series of "Letters to a Young Man," full of goodly discourse and moral
exhortation, found occasion to warn him against Mary's works, which she
did with as much energy as if the latter had been the Scarlet Woman of
Babylon in the flesh. "This unfortunate woman," she says in conclusion,
"has _terribly_ terminated her guilty career; terribly, I say, because
the account of her last moments, though intentionally panegyrical, proves
that she died as she lived; and her posthumous writings show that her
soul was in the most unfit state to meet her pure and holy judge."

A writer in the "Beauties of England and Wales," though animated by the
same spirit, saw no reason to caution his readers against Mary's
pernicious influence, because of his certainty that in another generation
she would be forgotten. "Few writers have attained a larger share of
temporary celebrity," he admits. "This was the triumph of wit and
eloquence of style. To the age next succeeding it is probable that her
name will be nearly unknown; for the calamities of her life so miserably
prove the impropriety of her doctrines that it becomes a point of charity
to close the volume treating of the Rights of Women with mingled wonder
and pity."

But probably the article which was most influential in perpetuating the
ill-repute in which she stood with her contemporaries, is the sketch of
her life given in Chalmers's "Biographical Dictionary." The papers and
many books of the day soon passed out of sight, but the Dictionary was
long used as a standard work of reference. In this particular article
every action of Mary's life is construed unfavorably, and her character
shamefully vilified. Judging from Godwin's Memoir, it decides that Mary
"appears to have been a woman of strong intellect, which might have
elevated her to the highest ranks of English female writers, had not her
genius run wild for want of cultivation. Her passions were consequently
ungovernable, and she accustomed herself to yield to them without
scruple, treating female honor and delicacy as vulgar prejudices. She was
therefore a voluptuary and sensualist, without that refinement for which
she seemed to contend on other subjects. Her history, indeed, forms
entirely a warning, and in no part an example. Singular she was, it must
be allowed, for it is not easily to be conceived that such another
heroine will ever appear, unless in a novel, where a latitude is given to
that extravagance of character which she attempted to bring into real
life." Beloe, in the "Sexagenarian," borrowed the scurrilous abuse of the
"Biographical Dictionary," which was furthermore accepted by almost every
history of English literature and encyclopædia as the correct estimate of
Mary's character and teachings. It is, therefore, no wonder that the
immorality of her doctrines and unwomanliness of her conduct came to be
believed in implicitly by the too credulous public.

That she fully deserved this disapprobation and contempt seemed to many
confirmed by the fact that her daughter, Mary Godwin, consented to live
with Shelley before their union could be legalized. The independence of
mother and daughter excited private as well as public animosity. There is
in the British Museum a book containing a collection of drawings,
newspaper slips, and written notes, illustrative of the history and
topography of the parish of Saint Pancras. As Mary Wollstonecraft was
buried in the graveyard of Saint Pancras Church, mention is made of her.
A copy of the painting{1} by Opie, which was supposed until very recently
to be her portrait, is pasted on one of the pages of this book, and
opposite to it is the following note, written on a slip of paper, and
dated 1821: "Mary Wollstonecraft, a disgrace to modesty, an eminent
instance of a perverted strong mind, the defender of the 'Rights of
Women,' but an ill example to them, soon terminated her life of error,
and her remains were laid in the cemetery of Saint Pancras, amidst the
believers of the papal creed.

  {1} It was engraved and published in the "Monthly Mirror," with Mary's
      name attached to it, during her lifetime. When Mr. Kegan Paul
      published the "Letters to Imlay," in 1879, there seemed no doubt
      of its authenticity. But since then it has been proved to be the
      portrait of the wife of an artist who lived in the latter part
      of  the eighteenth century.

"There is a monument placed over her remains, being a square pillar."
(The inscription here follows.) "A willow was planted on each side of the
pillar, but, like the character of Mary, they do not flourish. Her
unfortunate daughters were reared by their infamous father for
prostitution,--one is sold to the wicked poet Shelley, and the other to
attend upon her. The former became Mrs. Shelley." The prejudice of the
writer of these lines against the subject of them, together with his
readiness to accept all the ill spoken of her, is at once shown in his
reference to Claire, who was the daughter of the second Mrs. Godwin by
her first husband, and hence no relation whatever to Mrs. Shelley. This
mistake proves that he relied overmuch upon current gossip.

During all these years Mary was not entirely without friends, but their
number was small. In 1803 an anonymous admirer published a defence of her
character and conduct, "founded on principles of nature and reason as
applied to the peculiar circumstances of her case," in a series of nine
letters to a lady. But his defence is less satisfactory to his readers
than it is to be presumed it was to himself. In it he carefully repeats
those details of Godwin's Memoir which were most severely criticised, and
to some of them gives a new and scarcely more favorable construction. He
candidly admits that he does not pretend to vindicate the _whole_ of her
conduct. He merely wishes to apologize for it by demonstrating the
motives from which she acted. But to accomplish this he evolves his
arguments chiefly from his inner consciousness. Had he appealed more
directly to her writings, and thought less of showing his own ingenuity
in reasoning, he would have written to better purpose.

Southey was always enthusiastic in his admiration. His letters are full
of her praises. "We are going to dine on Wednesday next with Mary
Wollstonecraft, of all the literary characters the one I most admire," he
wrote to Thomas Southey, on April 28, 1797. And a year or two after her
death, he declared in a letter to Miss Barker, "I never praised living
being yet, except Mary Wollstonecraft." He made at least one public
profession of his esteem in these lines, prefixed to his "Triumph of

    "The lily cheek, the 'purple light of love,'
    The liquid lustre of the melting eye,
    Mary! of these the Poet sung, for these
    Did Woman triumph ... turn not thou away
    Contemptuous from the theme. No Maid of Arc
    Had, in those ages, for her country's cause
    Wielded the sword of freedom; no Roland
    Had borne the palm of female fortitude;
    No Condé with self-sacrificing zeal
    Had glorified again the Avenger's name,
    As erst when Cæsar perished; haply too
    Some strains may hence be drawn, befitting me
    To offer, nor unworthy thy regard."

Shelley too offered her the tribute of his praise in verse. In the
dedication of the "Revolt of Islam," addressed to his wife, he thus
alludes to the latter's famous mother:--

    "They say that thou wert lovely from thy birth,
    Of glorious parents, thou aspiring child.
    I wonder not; for one then left the earth
    Whose life was like a setting planet mild
    Which clothed thee in the radiance undefiled
    Of its departing glory."

But the mere admiration of Southey and Shelley had little weight against
popular prejudice. Year by year Mary's books, like so many other literary
productions, were less frequently read, and the prediction that in
another generation her name would be unknown bade fair to be fulfilled.
But the latest of her admirers, Mr. Kegan Paul, has, by his zealous
efforts in her behalf, succeeded in vindicating her character and
reviving interest in her writings. By his careful history of her life,
and noble words in her defence, he has re-established her reputation. As
he says himself, "Only eighty years after her death has any serious
attempt been made to set her right in the eyes of those who will choose
to see her as she was." His attempt has been successful. No one after
reading her sad story as he tells it in his Life of Godwin, can doubt her
moral uprightness. His statement of her case attracted the attention it
deserved. Two years after it appeared, Miss Mathilde Blind published, in
the "New Quarterly Review," a paper containing a briefer sketch of the
incidents he recorded, and expressing an honest recognition of this great
but much-maligned woman.

Thus, at this late day, the attacks of her enemies are being defeated.
The critic who declared the condition of the trees planted near her grave
to be symbolical of her fate, were he living now, would be forced to
change the conclusions he drew from his comparison. In that part of Saint
Pancras Churchyard which lies between the two railroad bridges, and which
has not been included in the restored garden, but remains a dreary waste,
fenced about with broken gravestones, the one fresh green spot is the
corner occupied by the monument{1} erected to the memory of Mary
Wollstonecraft, and separated from the open space by an iron railing.
There is no sign of withering willows in this enclosure. Its trees are of
goodly growth and fair promise. And, like them, her character now
_flourishes_, for justice is at last being done to her.

  {1} Her body has been removed to Bournemouth.




Mary Wollstonecraft was born on the 27th of April, 1759, but whether in
London or in Epping Forest, where she spent the first five years of her
life, is not quite certain. There is no history of her ancestors to show
from whom she inherited the intellectual greatness which distinguished
her, but which characterized neither of her parents. Her paternal
grandfather was a manufacturer in Spitalfields, of whom little is known,
except that he was of Irish extraction and that he himself was
respectable and prosperous. To his son, Edward John, Mary's father, he
left a fortune of ten thousand pounds, no inconsiderable sum in those
days for a man of his social position. Her mother was Elizabeth, daughter
of Mr. Dixon, of Ballyshannon, Ireland, who belonged to an eminently good
family. Mary was the second of six children. The eldest, Edward, who was
more successful in his worldly affairs than the others, and James, who
went to sea to seek his fortunes, both passed to a great extent out of
her life. But her two sisters, Eliza and Everina, and her youngest
brother, Charles, were so dependent upon her for assistance in their many
troubles that their career is intimately associated with hers.

With her very first years Mary Wollstonecraft began a bitter training in
the school of experience, which was to no small degree instrumental in
developing her character and forming her philosophy. There are few
details of her childhood, and no anecdotes indicating a precocious
genius. But enough is known of her early life to make us understand what
were the principal influences to which she was exposed. Her strength
sprang from the very uncongeniality of her home and her successful
struggles against the poverty and vice which surrounded her. Her father
was a selfish, hot-tempered despot, whose natural bad qualities were
aggravated by his dissipated habits. His chief characteristic was his
instability. He could persevere in nothing. Apparently brought up to no
special profession, he was by turns a gentleman of leisure, a farmer, a
man of business. It seems to have been sufficient for him to settle in
any one place to almost immediately wish to depart from it. The history
of the first fifteen or twenty years of his married life is that of one
long series of migrations. The discomforts and petty miseries unavoidable
to travellers with large families in pre-railroad days necessarily
increased his irascibility. The inevitable consequence of these many
changes was loss of money and still greater loss of temper. That his
financial experiments proved to be failures, is certain from the abject
poverty of his later years. That they were bad for him morally, is shown
in the fact that his children, when grown up, found it impossible to live
under the same roof with him. His indifference in one particular to their
wishes and welfare led in the end to disregard of them in all matters.

It is more than probable that Mary, in her "Wrongs of Woman," drew
largely from her own experience for the characters therein represented,
and we shall not err in identifying the father she describes in this
novel with Mr. Wollstonecraft himself. "His orders," she writes, "were
not to be disputed; and the whole house was expected to fly at the word
of command.... He was to be instantaneously obeyed, especially by my
mother, whom he very benevolently married for love; but took care to
remind her of the obligation when she dared in the slightest instance to
question his absolute authority." He was, in a word, an egotist of the
worst description, who found no brutality too low once his anger was
aroused, and no amount of despotism too odious when the rights and
comforts of others interfered with his own desires. When contradicted or
thwarted his rage was ungovernable, and he used personal violence not
only to his dogs and children, but even to his wife. Drink and
unrestrained selfishness had utterly degraded him. Such was Mary's

Mrs. Wollstonecraft was her husband's most abject slave, but was in turn
somewhat of a tyrant herself. She approved of stern discipline for the
young. She was too indolent to give much attention to the education of
her children, and devoted what little energy she possessed to enforcing
their unquestioning obedience even in trifles, and to making them as
afraid of her displeasure as they were of their father's anger. "It is
perhaps difficult to give you an idea of the petty cares which obscured
the morning of my life," Mary declares through her heroine,--"continual
restraint in the most trivial matters, unconditional submission to
orders, which as a mere child I soon discovered to be unreasonable,
because inconsistent and contradictory. Thus are we destined to
experience a mixture of bitterness with the recollection of our most
innocent enjoyment." Edward, as the mother's favorite, escaped her
severity; but it fell upon Mary with double force, and was with her
carried out with a thoroughness that laid its shortcomings bare, and
consequently forced Mrs. Wollstonecraft to modify her treatment of her
younger children. This concession on her part shows that she must have
had their well-being at heart, even when her policy in their regard was
most misguided, and that her unkindness was not, like her husband's
cruelty, born of caprice. But it was sad for Mary that her mother did not
discover her mistake sooner.

When Mary was five years old, and before she had had time to form any
strong impressions of her earliest home, her father moved to another part
of Epping Forest near the Chelmsford Road. Then, at the end of a year, he
carried his family to Barking in Essex, where he established them in a
comfortable home, a little way out of the town. Many of the London
markets were then supplied from the farms around Barking, so that the
chance for his success here was promising.

This place was the scene of Mary's principal childish recollections and
associations. Natural surroundings were with her of much more importance
than they usually are to the very young, because she depended upon them
for her pleasures. She cared nothing for dolls and the ordinary
amusements of girls. Having received few caresses and little tender
nursing, she did not know how to play the part of mother. Her recreation
led her out of doors with her brothers. That she lived much in the open
air and became thoroughly acquainted with the town and the neighborhood,
seems certain from the eagerness with which she visited it years
afterwards with Godwin. This was in 1796, and Mary with enthusiasm sought
out the old house in which she had lived. It was unoccupied, and the
garden around it was a wild and tangled mass. Then she went through the
town itself; to the market-place, which had perhaps been the Mecca of
frequent pilgrimages in the old times; to the wharves, the bustle and
excitement of which had held her spellbound many a long summer afternoon;
and finally from one street to another, each the scene of well-remembered
rambles and adventures. Time can soften sharp and rugged lines and
lighten deep shadows, and the pleasant reminiscences of Barking days made
her overlook bitterer memories.

That there were many of the latter, cannot be doubted. Only too often the
victim of her father's cruel fury, and at all times a sufferer because of
her mother's theories, she had little chance for happiness during her
childhood. She was, like Carlyle's hero of "Sartor Resartus," one of
those children whose sad fate it is to weep "in the playtime of the
others." Not even to the David Copperfields and Paul Dombeys of fiction
has there fallen a lot so hard to bear and so sad to record, as that of
the little Mary Wollstonecraft. She was then the most deserving object of
that pity which later, as a woman, she was always ready to bestow upon
others. Her affections were unusually warm and deep, but they could find
no outlet. She met, on the one hand, indifference and sternness; on the
other, injustice and ill-usage. It is when reading the story of her
after-life, and learning from it how, despite her masculine intellect,
she possessed a heart truly feminine, that we fully appreciate the
barrenness of her early years. She was one of those who, to use her own
words, "cannot live without loving, as poets love." At the strongest
period of her strong womanhood she felt, as she so touchingly confesses
in her appeals to Imlay, the need of some one to lean upon,--some one to
give her the love and sympathy, which were to her what light and heat are
to flowers. It can therefore easily be imagined how much greater was the
necessity, and consequently the craving caused by its non-gratification,
when she was nothing but a child. Overflowing with tenderness, she dared
not lavish it on the mother who should have been so ready to receive it.
Instead of the confidence which should exist between mother and daughter,
there was in their case nothing but cold formality. Nor was there for her
much compensation in the occasional caresses of her father. Sensitive to
a fault, she could not forgive his blows and unkindness so quickly as to
be able to enjoy his smiles and favors. Moreover, she had little chance
of finding, without, the devotion and gentle care which were denied to
her within her own family. Mr. Wollstonecraft remained so short a time in
each locality in which he made his home, that his wife saw but little of
her relations and old acquaintances; while no sooner had his children
made new friends, than they were separated from them.

To whatever town they went, the Wollstonecrafts seem to have given signs
of gentility and good social standing, which won for them, if not many,
at least respectable friends. At Barking an intimacy sprang up between
them and the family of Mr. Bamber Gascoyne, Member of Parliament. But
Mary was too young to profit by this friendship. It was most ruthlessly
interrupted three years later, when, in 1768, the restless head of the
house, whose industry in Barking had not equalled the enterprise which
brought him there, took his departure for Beverly, in Yorkshire.

This was the most complete change that he had as yet made. Heretofore his
wanderings had been confined to Essex. But he either found in his new
home more promising occupation and congenial companionship than he had
hitherto, or else there was a short respite to his feverish restlessness,
for he continued in it for six years. It was here Mary received almost
all the education that was ever given her by regular schooling. Beverly
was nothing but a small market-town, though she in her youthful
enthusiasm thought it large and handsome, and its inhabitants brilliant
and elegant, and was much disappointed, when she passed through it many
years afterwards, on her way to Norway, to see how far the reality fell
short of her youthful idealizations. Its schools could not have been of a
very high order, and we do not need Godwin's assurance to know that Mary
owed little of her subsequent culture to them. But her education may be
said to have really begun in 1775, when her father, tired of farming and
tempted by commercial hopes, left Beverly for Hoxton, near London.

Mary was at this time in her sixteenth year. The effect of her home
life, under which most children would have succumbed, had been to develop
her character at an earlier age than is usual with women. In spite of the
tyranny and caprice of her parents, and, indeed, perhaps because of them,
she had soon asserted her individuality and superiority. When she had
recognized the mistaken motives of her mother and the weakness of her
father, she had been forced to rely upon her own judgment and
self-command. It is a wonderful proof of her fine instincts that, though
she must have known her strength, she did not rebel, and that her keen
insight into the injustice of some actions did not prevent her realizing
the justice of others. Her mind seems to have been from the beginning too
evenly balanced for any such misconceptions. When reprimanded, she
deservedly found in the reprimand, as she once told Godwin, the one means
by which she became reconciled to herself for the fault which had called
it forth. As she matured, her immediate relations could not but yield to
the influence which she exercised over all with whom she was brought into
close contact. If there be such a thing as animal magnetism, she
possessed it in perfection. Her personal attractions commanded love, and
her great powers of sympathy drew people, without their knowing why, to
lean upon her for moral support. In the end she became an authority in
her family. Mrs. Wollstonecraft was in time compelled to bestow upon her
the affection which she had first withheld. It was the ugly duckling
after all who proved to be the swan of the flock. Mr. Wollstonecraft
learned to hold his eldest daughter in awe, and his wrath sometimes
diminished in her presence.

Pity was always Mary's ruling passion. Feeling deeply the family
sorrows, she was quick to forget herself in her efforts to lighten them
when this privilege was allowed to her. There were opportunities enough
for self-sacrifice. With every year Mr. Wollstonecraft squandered more
money, and grew idler and more dissipated. Home became unbearable, the
wife's burden heavier. Mary, emancipated from the restraints of
childhood, no longer remained a silent spectator of her father's fits of
passion. When her mother was the victim of his violence, she interposed
boldly between them, determined that if his blows fell upon any one, it
should be upon herself. There were occasions when she so feared the
results of his drunken rage that she would not even go to bed at night,
but, throwing herself upon the floor outside her room, would wait there,
on the alert, to meet whatever horrors darkness might bring forth. Could
there be a picture more tragical than this of the young girl, a weary
woman before her time, protecting the mother who should have protected
her, fighting against the vices of a father who should have shielded her
from knowledge of them! Already before she had left her home there must
have come into her eyes that strangely sad expression, which Kegan Paul,
in speaking of her portrait by Opie, says reminds him of nothing unless
it be of the agonized sorrow in the face of Guido's Beatrice Cenci. No
one can wonder that she doubted if marriage can be the highest possible
relationship between the sexes, when it is remembered that for years she
had constantly before her, proofs of the power man possesses, by sheer
physical strength and simple brutality, to destroy the happiness of an
entire household.

It was fortunate for her that she spent these wretched years in or very
near the country. She could wear off the effects of the stifling home
atmosphere by races over neighboring heaths, or by walks through lanes
and woods. Constant exercise in the open air is the best of stimulants.
It helped her to escape the many ills which childish flesh is heir to; it
lessened the morbid tendency of her nature; and it developed an energy of
character which proved her greatest safeguard against her sensitive and
excitable temperament. Besides this, she seems to have taken real delight
in her out-of-doors life. If at a later age she loved to sit in solitude
and listen to the singing of a robin and the falling of the leaves, she
must, as a child, have possessed much of that imaginative power which
transforms all nature into fairyland. If, in the bitter consciousness
that she was a betrayed and much-sinned-against woman, she could still
find moments of exquisite pleasure in wandering through woods and over
rocks, such haunts must have been as dear to her when she sought in them
escape from her young misery. It is probable that she refers to herself
when she makes her heroine, Maria, say, "An enthusiastic fondness for the
varying charms of nature is the first sentiment I recollect."

Mary's existence up to 1775 had been, save when disturbed by family
storms, quiet, lonely, and uneventful. As yet no special incident had
occurred in it, nor had she been awakened to intellectual activity. But
in Hoxton she contracted a friendship which, though it was with a girl of
her own age, was always esteemed by her as the chief and leading event in
her existence. This it was which first aroused her love of study and of
independence, and opened a channel for the outpouring of her too-long
suppressed affections. Her love for Fanny Blood was the spark which
kindled the latent fire of her genius. Her arrival in Hoxton, therefore,
marks the first important era in her life.

She owed this new pleasure to Mr. Clare, a clergyman, and his wife, who
lived next to the Wollstonecrafts in Hoxton. The acquaintanceship formed
with their neighbors ripened in Mary's case into intimacy. Mr. Clare was
deformed and delicate, and, because of his great physical weakness, led
the existence of a hermit. He rarely, if ever, went out, and his habits
were so essentially sedentary that a pair of shoes lasted him for
fourteen years. It is hardly necessary to add that he was eccentric. But
he was a man of a certain amount of culture. He had read largely, his
opportunity for so doing being great. He was attracted by Mary, whom he
soon discovered to be no ordinary girl, and he interested himself in
forming and training her mind. She, in return, liked him. His deformity
alone would have appealed to her, but she found him a congenial
companion, and, as she proved herself a willing pupil, he was glad to
have her much with him. She was a friend of Mrs. Clare as well; indeed,
the latter remained true to her through later storms which wrecked many
other less sincere friendships. Mary sometimes spent days and even weeks
in the house of these good people; and it was on one of these occasions,
probably, that Mrs. Clare took her to Newington Butts, then a village at
the extreme southern end of London, and there introduced her to Frances

The first meeting between them, Godwin says, "bore a resemblance to the
first interview of Werter with Charlotte." The Bloods lived in a small,
but scrupulously well-kept house, and when its door was first opened for
Mary, Fanny, a bright-looking girl about her own age, was busy, like
another Lotte, in superintending the meal of her younger brothers and
sisters. It was a scene well calculated to excite Mary's interest. She,
better than any one else, could understand its full worth. It revealed to
her at a glance the skeleton in the family closet,--the inefficiency of
the parents to care for the children whom they had brought into the
world, and the poverty which prevented their hiring others to do their
work for them. And at the same time it showed her the noble unselfishness
of the daughter, who not only took upon herself the burden so easily
shifted by the parents, but who accepted her fate cheerfully.
Cheerfulness is a virtue but too lightly prized. When maintained in the
face of difficulties and unhappiness it becomes the finest heroism. The
recognition of this heroic side of Fanny's nature commanded the instant
admiration and respect of her visitor. Mary then and there vowed in her
heart eternal friendship for her new acquaintance, and the vow was never

Balzac, in his "Cousine Bette," says that there is no stronger passion
than the love of one woman for another. Mary Wollstonecraft's affection
for Frances Blood is a striking illustration of the truth of his
statement. It was strong as that of a Sappho for an Erinna; tender and
constant as that of a mother for her child. From the moment they met
until they were separated by poor Fanny's untimely death, Mary never
wavered in her devotion and its active expression, nor could the
vicissitudes and joys of her later life destroy her loving loyalty to the
memory of her first and dearest friend. "When a warm heart has strong
impressions," she wrote in a letter long years afterwards, "they are not
to be effaced. Emotions become sentiments; and the imagination renders
even transient sensations permanent, by fondly retracing them. I cannot
without a thrill of delight recollect views I have seen, which are not to
be forgotten, nor looks I have felt in every nerve, which I shall never
more meet. The grave has closed over a dear friend, the friend of my
youth; still she is present with me, and I hear her soft voice warbling
as I stray over the heath."

There was much to draw the two friends together. They had many miseries
and many tastes and interests in common. Fanny's parents were poor, and
her father, like Mr. Wollstonecraft, was idle and dissipated. There were
young children to be reared, and an incompetent mother to do it. Fanny
was only two years older than Mary, but was, at that time, far more
advanced mentally. Her education had been more complete. She was in a
small way both musician and artist, was fond of reading, and had even
tried her powers at writing. But her drawing had proved her most
profitable accomplishment, and by it she supported her entire family.
Mary as yet had perfected herself in nothing, and was helpless where
money-making was concerned. Her true intellectual education had but just
begun under Mr. Clare's direction. She had previously read voluminously,
but, having done so for mere immediate gratification, had derived but
little profit therefrom. As she lived in Hoxton, and Fanny in Newington
Butts, they could not see each other very often, and so in the intervals
between their visits they corresponded. Mary found that her letters were
far inferior to those of her friend. She could not spell so well; she had
none of Fanny's ease in shaping her thoughts into words. Her pride was
hurt and her ambition stirred. She determined to make herself at least
Fanny's intellectual equal. It was humiliating to know herself powerless
to improve her own condition, when her friend was already earning an
income large enough not only to meet her own wants but those of others
depending upon her. To prepare herself for a like struggle with the
world, a struggle which in all likelihood she would be obliged to make
single-handed, she studied earnestly. Books acquired new value in her
eyes. She read no longer for passing amusement, but to strengthen and
cultivate her mind for future work. It cannot be doubted that under any
circumstances she would, in the course of a few years, have become
conscious of her power and the necessity to exercise it. But to Fanny
Blood belongs the honor of having given the first incentive to her
intellectual energy. This brave, heavily burdened young English girl,
accepting toils and tribulations with stout heart, would, with many
another silent heroine or hero, have been forgotten, had it not been for
the stimulus her love and example were to an even stronger
sister-sufferer. The larger field of interests thus opened for Mary was
like the bright dawn after a long and dark night. For the first time she
was happy.

There was therefore much in her life at Hoxton to relieve the gloomy
influence of the family troubles. Work for a definite end is in itself a
great joy. Many pleasant hours were spent with the Clares, and occasional
gala-days with Fanny. These last two pleasures, however, were
short-lived. The inexorable family tyrant, her father, grew tired of
commerce, as indeed he did of everything, and in the spring of 1776 he
abandoned it for agriculture, this time settling in Pembroke, Wales,
where he owned some little property. With a heavy heart Mary bade
farewell to her new friends.

It is well worth recording that in 1775, while Mary Wollstonecraft was
living in Hoxton, William Godwin was a student at the Dissenting College
in that town. Godwin, in his short Memoir of his wife, pauses to
speculate as to what would have been the result had they then met and
loved. In his characteristic philosophical way he asks, "Which would have
been predominant,--the disadvantages of obscurity and the pressure of a
family, or the gratifications and improvement that might have flowed from
their intercourse?" But the vital question is: Would an acquaintanceship
formed between them at that time have ever become more than mere
friendship? She was then a wild, untrained girl, and had not reduced her
contempt for established institutions to fixed principles. Godwin, the
son of a Dissenting clergyman, was studying to be one himself, and his
opinions of the rights of man were still unformed. Neither had developed
the ideas and doctrines which afterwards were the bond of sympathy
between them. One thing is certain: while they might have benefited had
they married twenty years earlier than they did, the world would have
lost. Godwin, under the influence of a wife's tender love, would never
have became a cold, systematic philosopher. And Mary, had she found a
haven from her misery so soon, would not have felt as strongly about the
wrongs of women. Whatever her world's work under those circumstances
might have been, she would not have become the champion of her sex.

Of external incidents the year in Wales was barren. The only one on
record is the intimacy which sprang up between the Wollstonecrafts and
the Allens. Two daughters of this family afterwards married sons of the
famous potter, Wedgwood, and the friendship then begun lasted for life.
To Mary herself, however, this year was full and fertile. It was devoted
to study and work. Hers was the only true genius,--the genius for
industry. She never relaxed in the task she had set for herself, and her
progress was rapid. The signs she soon manifested of her mental power
added to the respect with which her family now treated her. Realizing
that the assistance she could give by remaining at home was but little
compared to that which might result from her leaving it for some definite
employment, she seems at this period to have announced her intention of
seeking her fortunes abroad. But Mrs. Wollstonecraft looked upon the
presence of her daughter as a strong bulwark of defence against the
brutal attacks of her husband, and was loath to lose it. Mary yielded to
her entreaties to wait a little longer; but her sympathy and tender pity
for human suffering fortunately never destroyed her common sense. She
knew that the day must come when on her own individual exertions would
depend not only her own but a large share of her sisters' and brothers'
maintenance, and, in consenting to remain at home, she exacted certain
conditions. She insisted upon being allowed freedom in the regulation of
her actions. She demanded that she should have a room for her exclusive
property, and that, when engaged in study, she should not be interrupted.
She would attend to certain domestic duties, and after they were over,
her time must be her own. It was little to ask. All she wanted was the
liberty to make herself independent of the paternal care which girls of
eighteen, as a rule, claim as their right. It was granted her.

At the end of another year, the demon of restlessness again attacked Mr.
Wollstonecraft. Wales proved less attractive than it had appeared at a
distance. Orders were given to repack the family goods and chattels, and
to set out upon new wanderings. On this occasion, Mary interfered with a
strong hand. Since a change was to be made, it might as well be turned to
her advantage. She had, without a word, allowed herself to be carried to
Wales away from the one person she really loved, and she now knew the
sacrifice had been useless. It was clear to her that one place was no
better for her father than another; therefore he should go where it
pleased her. It was better that one member of the family should be
content, than that all should be equally miserable. She prevailed upon
him to choose Walworth as his next resting-place. Here she would be near
Fanny, and life would again hold some brightness for her.

It was at Walworth that she took the first step in what was fated to be a
long life of independence and work. The conditions which she had made
with her family seem to have been here neglected, and study at home
became more and more impossible. She was further stimulated to action by
the personal influence of her energetic friend, by the fact that the
younger children were growing up to receive their share of the family
sorrow and disgrace, and by her own great dread of poverty. "How writers
professing to be friends to freedom and the improvement of morals can
assert that poverty is no evil, I cannot imagine!" she exclaims in the
"Wrongs of Woman." She cared nothing for the luxuries and the ease and
idleness which wealth gives, but she prized above everything the time and
opportunity for self-culture of which the poor, in their struggle for
existence, are deprived. The Wollstonecraft fortunes were at low ebb. Her
share in them, should she remain at home, would be drudgery and slavery,
which would grow greater with every year. Her one hope for the future
depended upon her profitable use of the present. The sooner she earned
money for herself, the sooner would she be able to free her brothers and
sisters from the yoke whose weight she knew full well because of her own
eagerness to throw it off. Unselfish as her father was selfish, she
thought quite as much of their welfare as of her own. Therefore when, at
the age of nineteen, a situation as lady's companion was offered to her,
neither tears nor entreaties could alter her resolution to accept it. She
entered at once upon her new duties, and with them her career as woman
may be said to have begun.




Mary Wollstonecraft did not become famous at once. She began her career
as humbly as many a less gifted woman. Like the heroes of old, she had
tasks allotted her before she could attain the goal of her ambition. And
Heracles in his twelve labors, Jason in search of the Golden Fleece,
Sigurd in pursuit of the treasure, did not have greater hardships to
endure or dangers to overcome than she had before she won for herself
independence and fame.

It is difficult for a young man without money, influential friends, or
professional education to make his way in the world. With a woman placed
in similar circumstances the difficulty is increased a hundred-fold. We
of to-day, when government and other clerkships are open to women, cannot
quite realize their helplessness a few generations back. In Mary
Wollstonecraft's time those whose birth and training had unfitted them
for the more menial occupations--who could neither bake nor scrub--had
but two resources. They must either become governesses or ladies'
companions. In neither case was their position enviable. They ranked as
little better than upper servants. Mary's first appearance on the
world-stage, therefore, was not brilliant.

The lady with whom she went to live was a Mrs. Dawson, a widow who had
but one child, a grown-up son. Her residence was in Bath. Mary must then
have given at least signs of the beauty which did not reach its full
development until many years later, her sorrows had not entirely
destroyed her natural gayety, and she was only nineteen years old. The
mission in Bath in those days of young girls of her age was to dance and
to flirt, to lose their hearts and to find husbands, to gossip, to listen
to the music, to show themselves in the Squares and Circus and on the
Parades, or, sometimes, when they were seriously inclined, to drink the
waters. Mary's was to cater to the caprices of a cross-grained, peevish
woman. There was little sunshine in the morning of her life. She was
destined always to see the darkest side of human nature. Mrs. Dawson's
temper was bad, and her companions, of whom there seem to have been many,
had hitherto fled before its outbreaks, as the leaves wither and fall at
the first breath of winter. Mary's home-schooling was now turned to good
account. Mrs. Dawson's rage could not, at its worst, equal her father's
drunken violence; and long experience of the latter prepared her to bear
the former with apparent, if not real, stoicism. We have no particulars
of her life as companion nor knowledge of the exact nature of her duties.
But of one thing we are certain, the fulfilment of them cost her many a
heartache. Those who know her only as the vindicator of the Rights of
Women and the defiant rebel against social laws, may think her case calls
for little sympathy. But the truth is, there have been few women so
dependent for happiness upon human love, so eager for the support of
their fellow-beings, and so keenly alive to neglects and slights. In Bath
she was separated from her friends, she was alone in her struggle, and
she held a position which did not always command respect. However, her
indomitable will and unflagging energy availed her to such good purpose
that she continued with Mrs. Dawson for two years, doubtless to the
surprise of the latter, accustomed as she was to easily frightened and
hastily retreating companions. Her departure then was due, not to moral
cowardice or exhaustion, but to a summons from home.

Mrs. Wollstonecraft's health had begun to fail. Her life had been a hard
one, and the drains upon her constitution many. She was the mother of a
large family, and had had her full share of the by no means insignificant
pains and cares of maternity. In addition to these she had had to contend
against poverty, that evil which, says the Talmud, is worse than fifty
plagues, and against the vagaries of a good-for-nothing drunken husband.
Once she fell beneath her burden, she could not rise with it again. She
had no strength left to withstand her illness. Eliza and Everina were
both at home to take care of her, but she could not rest without the
eldest daughter, upon whom experience had taught her to rely implicitly.
She sent for Mary, and the latter hastened at once to her mother's side.
Her own hopes and ambitions, her chances and prospects, all were
forgotten in her desire to do what she could for the poor patient. Fierce
and fearless as an inspired Joan of Arc, when fighting in the cause of
justice, she was tender and gentle as a sister of charity when tending
the sick. She waited upon her mother with untiring care. Mrs.
Wollstonecraft's illness was long and lingering, though it declared
itself at an early stage to be hopeless. In her pleasure at her
daughter's return she received her services with grateful thanks. But, as
she grew worse, she became more accustomed to the presence of her nurse,
and exacted as a right that which she had first accepted as a favor. She
would allow no one else to attend to her, and day and night Mary was with

Finally the end came. Mrs. Wollstonecraft died, happy to be released from
a world which had given her nothing but unkindness and sorrow. Her
parting words were: "A little patience, and all will be over!" It was not
difficult for the dying woman, so soon to have eternity to rest in, to
bear quietly time's last agony. But for the weary, heart-sick young girl,
before whom there stretched a vista of long years of toil, the lesson of
patience was less easy to learn. Mary never forgot these words, nor did
she heed their bitter sarcasm. Often and often, in her after trials, they
returned to her, carrying with them peace and comfort.

This event occurred in 1780. The family were then living in Enfield,
which place had succeeded Walworth in their periodical migrations. After
her mother's death Mary, tired out from constant nursing, want of sleep,
and anxiety of mind, became ill. She sorely needed quiet and an interval
from work. But the necessity to depart from her father's house was
imperative. He had fallen so low that his daughters were forced to leave
him. The difficulty was to find immediate means to meet the emergency. A
return to Mrs. Dawson does not seem to have suggested itself as a
possibility. Mary's great ambition was to become a teacher and to
establish a school. But this could not be easily or at once accomplished.
She must have time to prepare herself for the venture, to make friends,
and to give proof of her ability to teach. Fortunately, at this juncture
Fanny Blood proved a true friend, and offered her at least a temporary
home at Walham Green.

Fanny was still gaining a small income from her drawings, to which Mrs.
Blood added whatever she could make by her needle. Mary was not one to
fare upon another's bread. Too proud to become an additional charge to
these two hard-working women, she helped the latter with her sewing and
so contributed her share to the family means. It was not a congenial
occupation. But to her any work was preferable to waiting, Micawber-like,
for something better to turn up. Though she was happy because she was
with her friend, her life here was wellnigh as tragic as it had been in
her father's house. The family sorrows were great and many. Mr. Blood was
a ne'er-do-weel and a drunkard. Caroline, one of the daughters, had then
probably begun her rapid descent down-hill, moved thereto, poor girl, by
the relief which vice alone gave to the poverty and gloom of her home.
George, the brother, with whom Mary afterwards corresponded for so many
years, was unhappy because of his unrequited love for Everina
Wollstonecraft. He was an honest, good-principled young man, but his
associates were disreputable, and he was at times compromised by their
actions. But still sadder for Mary was the fact that Fanny, in addition
to domestic grievances, was tortured by the unkindness of an uncertain
lover. She had met, not long before, Mr. Hugh Skeys, a young but already
successful merchant. Attracted by her, he had been sufficiently attentive
and devoted to warrant her conclusion that his intentions were serious.
He seems to have loved her as deeply as he was capable of loving, but
discouraged perhaps by the wretched circumstances of the family, he could
not make up his mind to marry her. At one moment he was ready to desert
her, and at the next to claim her as his wife. Instead of resenting his
unpardonable conduct, as a prouder woman would have done, she bore it
with the humble patience of a Griselda. When he was kind, she hoped for
the best; when he was cold, she dreaded the worst. The consequence of
these alternate states of hope and despair was mental depression, and
finally physical ill health. Through her troubles, Mary, who had given
her the warmest and best, because the first, love of her life, was her
faithful ally and comforter. Indeed, her friendship grew warmer with
Fanny's increasing misfortunes. As she said of herself a few years later,
she was not a fair-weather friend. "I think," she wrote once in a letter
to George Blood, "I love most people best when they are in adversity, for
pity is one of my prevailing passions." She realized that she had made
herself her friend's equal, if not superior, intellectually, and that, so
far as moral courage and will power were concerned, she was much the
stronger of the two. There is nothing which so deepens a man's or a
woman's tenderness, as the knowledge that the object of it looks up to
her or to him for support, and Mary's affection increased because of its
new inspiration.

It has been said that it was necessary for all Mr. Wollstonecraft's
daughters to leave his house. Mary was not yet in a position to help her
sisters, and they had but few friends. Their chances of self-support were
small. Their position was the trying one of gentlewomen who could not
make servants of themselves, and who indeed would not be employed as
such, and who had not had the training to fit them for higher
occupations. Everina, therefore, was glad to find an asylum with her
brother Edward, who was an attorney in London. She became his
housekeeper, for, like Mary, she was too independent to allow herself to
be supported by the charity of others. Eliza, the youngest sister, who,
with greater love of culture than Everina, had had even less education,
solved her present problem by marrying, but she escaped one difficulty
only to fall into another still greater and more serious. The history of
her married experience is important because of the part Mary played in
it. The latter's independent conduct in her sister's regard is a
foreshadowing of the course she pursued at a later period in the
management of her own affairs.

Eliza was the most excitable and nervous of the three sisters. The family
sensitiveness was developed in her to a painful degree. She was not only
quick to take offence, but was ever on the lookout for slights and
insults even from people she dearly loved. She assumed a defensive
attitude against the world and mankind, and therefore life went harder
with her than with more cheerfully constituted women. It was almost
invariably the little rift that made her life-music mute. Her indignation
and rage were not so easily appeased as aroused. Altogether, she was a
very impossible person to live with peacefully. Mr. Bishop, the man she
married, was as quick-tempered and passionate as she, and, morally, was
infinitely beneath her. He was the original of the husband in the "Wrongs
of Woman," who is represented as an unprincipled sensualist, brute, and
hypocrite. The worst of it was that, when not carried away by his temper,
his address was good and his manners insinuating. As one of his friends
said of him, he was "either a lion or a spaniel." Unfortunately, at home
he was always the lion, a fact which those who knew him only as the
spaniel could not well believe. The marriage of two such people, needless
to say, was not happy. They mutually aggravated each other. Eliza, with
her sensitive, unforgiving nature, could not make allowances. Mr. Bishop
would not. Much as her waywardness and hastiness were at fault, he was
still more to blame in effecting the rupture between them.

The strain upon Eliza's nervous system, caused by almost daily quarrels
and scenes of violence, was more than she could bear. Then, to add to her
misery, she found herself in that condition in which women are apt to be
peculiarly susceptible and irritable. Her pregnancy so stimulated her
abnormal emotional excitement that her reason gave way, and for months
she was insane. Though she had her intervals of passivity she was at
times very violent, and disastrous results were feared. It was necessary
for some one to keep constant guard over her, and Mary was asked to
undertake this task.

Relentless as Fate in pursuing the hero of Greek Tragedy to his
predestined end, were the circumstances which formed Mary's prejudice
against the institution of marriage. This was the third domestic tragedy
caused by the husband's petty tyranny and the wife's slender resources of
defence, of which she was the immediate witness. Her experience was
unfortunate. The bright side of the married state was hidden from her.
She saw only its shadows, and these darkened until her soul rebelled
against the injustice, not of life, but of man's shaping of it. Sad as
was the fate of the Bloods and much as they needed her, the Bishop
household was still sadder and its appeals more urgent, and Mary hurried
thither at once.

No one can read the life of Mary Wollstonecraft without loving her, or
follow her first bitter struggles without feeling honor, nay reverence,
for her true womanliness which bore her bravely through them. She never
shrank from her duty nor lamented her clouded youth. Without a murmur she
left Walham Green and established herself as nurse and keeper to the poor
mad sister. There could be no greater heroism than this. With a nervous
constitution not unlike that of "poor Bess," she had to watch over the
frenzied mania of the wife and to confront the almost equally insane fury
of the husband. One of the letters which she wrote at this time to
Everina describes forcibly enough her sister's sad condition and her own

       _Saturday afternoon_, Nov. 1783.

     I expected to have seen you before this, but the extreme coldness
     of the weather is a sufficient apology. I cannot yet give any
     certain account of Bess, or form a rational conjecture with
     respect to the termination of her disorder. She has not had a
     violent fit of frenzy since I saw you, but her mind is in a most
     unsettled state, and attending to the constant fluctuation of it is
     far more harassing than the watching these raving fits that had not
     the least tincture of reason. Her ideas are all disjointed, and a
     number of wild whims float on her imagination, and fall from her
     unconnectedly something like strange dreams, when judgment sleeps,
     and fancy sports at a fine rate. Don't smile at my language, for I
     am so constantly forced to observe her, lest she run into mischief,
     that my thoughts continually turn on the unaccountable wanderings
     of her mind. She seems to think she has been very ill used, and, in
     short, till I see some more favorable symptoms, I shall only
     suppose that her malady has assumed a new and more distressing

     One thing, by way of comfort, I must tell you, that persons who
     recover from madness are generally in this way before they are
     perfectly restored, but whether Bess's faculties will ever regain
     their former tone, time only will show. At present I am in
     suspense. Let me hear from you, or see you, and believe me to be
     yours affectionately,

       M. W.

     _Sunday noon._--Mr. D. promised to call last night, and I intended
     sending this by him. We have been out in a coach, but still Bess is
     far from being _well_. Patience--patience. Farewell.

To her desire to keep Everina posted as to the progress of affairs, we
are indebted, for her letters, which give a very life-like picture of
herself and her surroundings while she remained in her brother-in-law's
house. They are interesting because, by showing the difficulties against
which she had to contend, and the effect these had upon her, we can
better appreciate the greatness of her nature by which she triumphed over
them. There is another one written during this sad period which must be
quoted here because it throws still more light upon Bishop's true
character and his ingenuity in tormenting those who lived with him:--

       _Monday morning_, Jan. 1784.

     I have nothing to tell you, my dear girl, that will give you
     pleasure. Yesterday was a dismal day, long and dreary. Bishop was
     very ill, etc., etc. He is much better to-day, but misery haunts
     this house in one shape or other. How sincerely do I join with you
     in saying that if a person has common sense, they cannot make one
     completely unhappy. But to attempt to lead or govern a weak mind is
     impossible; it will ever press forward to what it wishes,
     regardless of impediments, and, with a selfish eagerness, believe
     what it desires practicable though the contrary is as clear as the
     noon-day. My spirits are hurried with listening to pros and cons;
     and my head is so confused, that I sometimes say no, when I ought
     to say yes. My heart is almost broken with listening to B. while he
     reasons the case. I cannot insult him with advice, which he would
     never have wanted, if he was capable of attending to it. May my
     habitation never be fixed among the tribe that can't look beyond
     the present gratification, that draw fixed conclusions from general
     rules, that attend to the literal meaning only, and, because a
     thing ought to be, expect that it will come to pass. B. has made a
     confidant of Skeys; and as I can never speak to him in private, I
     suppose his pity may cloud his judgment. If it does, I should not
     either wonder at it, or blame him. For I that know, and am fixed in
     my opinion, cannot unwaveringly adhere to it; and when I reason, I
     am afraid of being unfeeling. Miracles don't occur now, and only a
     miracle can alter the minds of some people. They grow old, and we
     can only discover by their countenances that they are so. To the
     end of their chapter will their misery last. I expect Fanny next
     Thursday, and she will stay with us but a few days. Bess desires
     her love; she grows better and of course more sad.

Though Mary's heart was breaking and her brain reeling, her closer
acquaintance with Bishop convinced her that Eliza must not continue with
him. She determined at all hazards to free her sister from a man who was
slowly but surely killing her, and she knew she was right in her
determination. "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist," Emerson
says. Mary, because she was a true woman, was ruled in her conduct not by
conventionalities or public opinion, but by her sense of righteousness.
In her own words, "The sarcasms of society and the condemnation of a
mistaken world were nothing to her, compared with acting contrary to
those feelings which were the foundation of her principles." For some
months Eliza's physical and mental illness made it impossible to take a
decided step or to form definite plans. But when her child was born, and
she returned to a normal, though at the same time sadder, because
conscious, state, Mary felt that the time for action had arrived. That
she still thought it advisable for her sister to leave her husband,
though this necessitated the abandonment of her child, conclusively
proves the seriousness of Bishop's faults. It was no easy matter to
effect the separation. Bishop objected to it. It is never unpleasant for
a man to play the tyrant, and he was averse to losing his victim.
Pecuniary assistance was therefore not to be had from him, and the
sisters were penniless. Mary applied to Edward, though she was not sure
it was desirable for Eliza to take refuge with him. However, he does not
seem to have responded warmly, for Mary's suggestion was never acted
upon. Theirs was a situation in which friends are not apt to interfere,
and besides, Bishop's plausibility had won over not a few to his side.
Furthermore, the chance was that if he worked successfully upon Mr.
Skeys' sympathies, the Bloods would be influenced. There was absolutely
no one to help them, but Mary knew that it was useless to wait, and that
the morrow would not make easier what seemed to her the task of the
present day. When there was work to be done she never could rest with
"unlit lamp and ungirt loin." What she now most wanted for her sister was
liberty, and she resolved to secure this at once, and then afterwards to
look about her to see how it was to be maintained.

Accordingly, one day, Bishop well out of the way, the sisters left his
house forever. There was a mad, breathless drive, Bess, with her insanity
half returned, biting her wedding ring to pieces, a hurried exchange of
coaches to further insure escape from detection, a joyful arrival at
modest lodgings in Hackney, a giving in of false names, a hasty locking
of doors, and then--the reaction. Eliza, whose excitement had exhausted
itself on the way, became quiet and even ready for sleep. Mary, now that
immediate necessity for calmness and courage was over, grew nervous and
restless. With strained ears she listened to every sound. Her heart beat
time to the passing carriages, and she trembled at the lightest knock.

That night, in a wild, nervous letter to Everina, she wrote:--

     I hope B. will not discover us, for I would sooner face a lion; yet
     the door never opens but I expect to see him, panting for breath.
     Ask Ned how we are to behave if he should find us out, for Bess is
     determined not to return. Can he force her? but I'll not suppose
     it, yet I can think of nothing else. She is sleepy, and going to
     bed; my agitated mind will not permit me. Don't tell Charles or any
     creature! Oh! let me entreat you to be careful, for Bess does not
     dread him now as much as I do. Again, let me request you to write,
     as B.'s behavior may silence my fears. You will soon hear from me
     again. Fanny carried many things to Lear's, brush-maker in the
     Strand, next door to the White Hart.


     Miss Johnston--Mrs. Dodds, opposite the Mermaid, Church Street,

     She looks now very wild. Heaven protect us!

     I almost wish for an husband, for I want somebody to support me.

The Rubicon was crossed. But the hardships thereby incurred were but just
beginning. The two sisters were obliged to keep in hiding as if they had
been criminals, for they dared not risk a chance meeting with Bishop.
They had barely money enough to pay their immediate expenses, and their
means of making more were limited by the precautions they had to take. It
had only been possible in their flight to carry off a few things, and
they were without sufficient clothing. Then there came from their friends
an outcry against their conduct. The general belief then was, as indeed
it unfortunately continues to be, that women should accept without a
murmur whatever it suits their husbands to give them, whether it be
kindness or blows. Better a thousand times that one human soul should be
stifled and killed than that the Philistines of society should be
scandalized by its struggles for air and life. Eliza's happiness might
have been totally sacrificed had she remained with Bishop; but at least
the feelings of her acquaintances, in whom respectability had destroyed
the more humane qualities, would have been saved. Her scheme, Mary wrote
bitterly to Everina, was contrary to all the rules of conduct that are
published for the benefit of new married ladies. Many felt forced to
forfeit the friendship of these two social rebels, though it grieved them
to the heart to do it. Mrs. Clare, be it said to her honor, remained
stanch, but even she only approved cautiously, and Mary had her
misgivings that she would advise a reconciliation if she once saw Bishop.
To add to the hopelessness of their case, the deserted husband restrained
his rage so well, and made so much of Eliza's heartlessness in abandoning
her child, that he drew to himself the sympathy which should have been
given to her. Mary feared the effect his pleadings and representations
would have upon Edward, the extent of whose egotism she had not yet
measured, and she commissioned Everina to keep him firm. As for Eliza,
she was so shaken and weak, and so unhappy about the poor motherless
infant, that she could neither think nor act. The duty of providing for
their wants, immediate and still to come, fell entirely upon Mary. She
felt this to be just, since it was chiefly through her influence that
they had been brought to their present plight; but the responsibility was
great, and it is no wonder that, brave as she was, she longed for some
one to share it with her.

Her one source of consolation and strength at this time was her religion.
This will seem strange to many, who, knowing but few facts of her life,
conclude from her connection with Godwin and her social radicalism that
she was an atheist. But the sincerest spirit of piety breathes through
her letters written during her early troubles. When the desertion of her
so-called friends made her most bitter, she wrote to Everina:--

     "Don't suppose I am preaching when I say uniformity of conduct
     cannot in any degree be expected from those whose first motive of
     action is not the pleasing the Supreme Being, and those who humbly
     rely on Providence will not only be supported in affliction but
     have peace imparted to them that is past describing. This state is
     indeed a warfare, and we learn little that we don't smart for in
     the attaining. The cant of weak enthusiasts has made the
     consolations of religion and the assistance of the Holy Spirit
     appear ridiculous to the inconsiderate; but it is the only solid
     foundation of comfort that the weak efforts of reason will be
     assisted and our hearts and minds corrected and improved till the
     time arrives when we shall not only see _perfection_, but see every
     creature around us happy."

The consolation she found was sufficient to make her advise her friends
to seek for it from the same quarter. She wrote to George Blood at a time
when he was in serious difficulties:--

     "It gives me the sincerest satisfaction to find that you look for
     comfort where only it is to be met with, and that Being in whom you
     trust will not desert you. Be not cast down; while we are
     struggling with care life slips away, and through the assistance of
     Divine Grace we are obtaining habits of virtue that will enable us
     to relish those joys that we cannot now form any idea of. I feel
     myself particularly attached to those who are heirs of the
     promises, and travel on in the thorny path with the same Christian
     hopes that render my severe trials a cause of thankfulness when I
     _can_ think."

These passages, evangelical in tone, occur in private letters, meant to
be read only by those to whom they were addressed, so that they must be
counted as honest expressions of her convictions and not mere cant. Just
as she wrote freely to her sisters and her intimate friends about her
temporal matters, so without hesitation she talked to them of her
spiritual affairs. Her belief became broader as she grew older. She never
was an atheist like Godwin, or an unbeliever of the Voltaire school. But
as the years went on, and her knowledge of the world increased, her
religion concerned itself more with conduct and less with creed, until
she finally gave up going to church altogether. But at the time of which
we are writing she was regular in her attendance, and, though not
strictly orthodox, clung to certain forms. The mere fact that she
possessed definite ideas upon the subject while she was young shows the
naturally serious bent of her mind. She had received the most superficial
religious education. Her belief, such as it was, was wholly the result of
her own desire to solve the problems of existence and of the world beyond
the senses. It is this fact, and the inferences to be drawn from it,
which make her piety so well worth recording.

There seem to have been several schemes for work afoot just then. One was
that the two sisters and Fanny Blood, who, some time before, had
expressed herself willing and anxious to leave home, should join their
fortunes. Fanny could paint and draw. Mary and Eliza could take in
needlework until more pleasant and profitable employment could be
procured. Poverty and toil would be more than compensated for by the joy
which freedom and congenial companionship would give them. There was
nothing very Utopian in such a plan; but Fanny, when the time came for
its accomplishment, grew frightened. Her hard apprenticeship had given
her none of the self-confidence and reliance which belonged to Mary by
right of birth. Her family, despite their dependence upon her, seemed
like a protection against the outer world. And so she held back, pleading
the small chances of success by such a partnership, her own poor health,
which would make her a burden to them, and, in fact, so many good reasons
that the plan was abandoned. She, then, with greater aptitude for
suggestion than for action, proposed that Mary and Eliza should keep a
haberdashery shop, to be stocked at the expense of the much-called-upon
but sadly unsusceptible Edward. There is something grimly humorous in the
idea of Mary Wollstonecraft, destined as she was from all eternity to
sound an alarum call to arouse women from their lethargy, spending her
days behind a counter attending to their trifling temporal wants! A
Roland might as well have been asked to become cook, a Sir Galahad to
turn scullion. Honest work is never disgraceful in itself. Indeed,
"Better do to no end, than nothing!" But one regrets the pain and the
waste when circumstances force men and women capable of great work to
spend their energies in ordinary channels. A greater misery than
indifference to the amusement in which one seeks to take part, which
Hamerton counts as the most wearisome of all things, is positive dislike
for the work one is bound to do. Fortunately, Fanny's project was never
carried out. Probably Edward, as usual, failed to meet the proposals made
to him, and Mary realized that the chains by which she would thus bind
herself would be unendurable.

The plan finally adopted was that dearest to Mary's heart. She began her
career as teacher. She and Eliza went to Islington, where Fanny was then
living, and lodged in the same house with her. Then they announced their
intention of receiving day pupils. Mary was eminently fitted to teach.
Her sad experience had increased her natural sympathy and benevolence.
She now made her own troubles subservient to those of her
fellow-sufferers, and resolved that the welfare of others should be the
principal object of her life. Before the word had passed into moral
philosophy, she had become an altruist in its truest sense. The task of
teacher particularly attracted her because it enabled her to prepare the
young for the struggle with the world for which she had been so ill
qualified. Because so little attention had been given to her in her early
youth, she keenly appreciated the advantage of a good practical
education. But her merits were not recognized in Islington. Like the man
in the parable, she set out a banquet of which the bidden guests refused
to partake. No scholars were sent to her. Therefore, at the end of a few
months, she was glad to move to Newington Green, where better prospects
seemed to await her. There she had relatives and influential friends, and
the encouragement she received from them induced her to begin work on a
large scale. She rented a house, and opened a regular school. Her efforts
met with success. Twenty children became her pupils, while a Mrs.
Campbell, a relative, and her son, and another lady, with three children,
came to board with her. Mary was now more comfortable than she had
heretofore been. She was, comparatively speaking, prosperous. She had
much work to do, but by it she was supporting herself, and at the same
time advancing towards her "clear-purposed goal" of self-renunciation.
Then she had cause for pleasure in the fact that Eliza was now really
free, Bishop having finally agreed to the separation. Mary
Wollstonecraft, at the head of a house, and mistress of a school, was a
very different person from Mary Wollstonecraft, simple companion to Mrs.
Dawson or dependent friend of Fanny Blood. Her position was one to
attract attention, and it was sufficient for her to be known, to be loved
and admired. Her social sphere was enlarged. No one could care more for
society than she did, when that society was congenial. At Newington Green
she already began to show the preference for men and women of
intellectual tastes and abilities that she manifested so strongly in her
life in London. Foremost among her intimate acquaintances at this time
was Dr. Richard Price, a clergyman, a Dissenter, then well known because
of his political and mathematical speculations. He was an honest,
upright, simple-hearted man, who commanded the respect and love of all
who knew him, and whose benevolence was great enough to realize even
Mary's ideals. She became deeply attached to him personally, and was a
warm admirer of his religious and moral principles. His sermons gave her
great delight, and she often went to listen to them. He in return seems
to have felt great interest in her, and to have recognized her
extraordinary mental force. Mr. John Hewlet, also a clergyman, was
another of her friends, and she retained his friendship for many years
afterwards. A third friend, mentioned by Godwin in his Memoirs, was Mrs.
Burgh, widow of a man now almost forgotten, but once famous as the author
of "Political Disquisitions." In sorrows soon to come, Mrs. Burgh gave
practical proof of her affection. If a man can be judged by the character
of his associates, then the age, professions, and serious connections of
Mary's friends at Newington Green are not a little significant.

Much as she cared for these older friends, however, they could not be so
dear to her as Fanny and George Blood. She had begun by pitying the
latter for his hopeless passion for Everina, and had finished by loving
him for himself with true sisterly devotion. To brother and sister both,
she could open her heart as she could to no one else. They were young
with her, and that in itself is a strong bond of union. They, too, were
but just beginning life, and they could sympathize with all her
aspirations and disappointments. It was, therefore, an irreparable loss
to her when they, at almost the same time, but for different reasons,
left England. Fanny's health had finally become so wretched that even her
uncertain lover was moved to pity. Mr. Skeys seems to have been one of
the men who only appreciate that which they think they cannot have. Not
until the ill-health of the woman he loved warned him of the possibility
of his losing her altogether did he make definite proposals to her. Her
love for him had not been shaken by his unkindness, and in February,
1785, she married him, and went with him to Lisbon, where he was
established in business. A few years earlier he might, by making her his
wife, have secured her a long life's happiness. Now, as it turned out,
he succeeded but in making her path smooth for a few short months. Mary's
love for Fanny made her much more sensitive to Mr. Skeys' shortcomings as
a lover than Fanny had been. Shortly after the marriage she wrote
indignantly to George:--

     "Skeys has received congratulatory letters from most of his friends
     and relations in Ireland, and he now regrets that he did not marry
     sooner. All his mighty fears had no foundation, so that if he had
     had courage to brave the world's opinion, he might have spared
     Fanny many griefs, the scars of which will never be obliterated.
     Nay, more, if she had gone a year or two ago, her health might have
     been perfectly restored, which I do not now think will ever be the
     case. Before true passion, I am convinced, everything but a sense
     of duty moves; true love is warmest when the object is absent. How
     Hugh could let Fanny languish in England, while he was throwing
     money away at Lisbon, is to me inexplicable, if he had a passion
     that did not require the fuel of seeing the object. I much fear he
     loves her not for the qualities that render her dear to my heart.
     Her tenderness and delicacy are not even conceived of by a man who
     would be satisfied with the fondness of one of the general run of

George Blood's departure was due to less pleasant circumstances than
Fanny's. One youthful escapade which had come to light was sufficient to
attach to his name the blame for another, of which he was innocent. Some
of his associates had become seriously compromised; and he, to avoid
being implicated with them, had literally taken flight, and had made
Ireland his place of refuge.

Mary's friends left her just when she most needed them. Unfortunately,
the interval of peace inaugurated by the opening of the school was but
short-lived. Encouraged by the first success of her enterprise, she
rented a larger house, hoping that in it she would do even better. But
this step proved the _Open Sesame_ to an inexhaustible mine of
difficulties. The expense involved by the change was greater than she had
expected, and her means of meeting it smaller. The population at
Newington Green was not numerous or wealthy enough to support a large
first-class day-school, and more pupils were not forthcoming to avail
themselves of the new accommodations provided for them. It was a second
edition of the story of the wedding feast, and again highways and by-ways
were searched in vain. Moreover, her boarders neglected to pay their
bills regularly. Instead of being a source of profit, they were an
additional burden. Her life now became unspeakably sad. Her whole day was
spent in teaching. This in itself would not have been hard. She always
interested herself in her pupils, and the consciousness of good done for
others was her most highly prized pleasure. Had the physical fatigue
entailed by her work been her only hardship, she would have borne it
patiently and perhaps gayly. But from morning till night, waking and
sleeping, she was haunted by thoughts of unpaid bills and of increasing
debts. Poverty and creditors were the two unavoidable evils which stared
her in the face. Then, when she did hear from Fanny, it was to know that
the chances for her recovery were diminishing rather than increasing.
Reports of George Blood's ill-conduct, repeated for her benefit, hurt and
irritated her. On one occasion, her house was visited by men sent thither
in his pursuit by the girl who had vilely slandered him. Mrs. Campbell,
with the meanness of a small nature, reproached Mary for the
encouragement which she had given his vices. She loved him so truly that
this must have been gall and wormwood to her sensitive heart. Mr. and
Mrs. Blood continued poor and miserable, he drinking and idling, and she
faring as it must ever fare with the wives of such men. Mary saw nothing
before her but a dreary pilgrimage through the wide Valley of the Shadow
of Death, from which there seemed no escape to the Mount Zion beyond. If
she dragged herself out of the deep pit of mental despondency, it was to
fall into a still deeper one of physical prostration. The bleedings and
blisters ordered by her physician could help her but little. What she
needed to make her well was new pupils and honest boarders, and these the
most expert physician could not give her. Is it any wonder that she came
in time to hate Newington Green,--"the grave of all my comforts," she
called it,--to lose relish for life, and to feel cheered only by the
prospect of death? She had nothing to reproach herself with. In sorrow
and sickness alike she had toiled to the best of her abilities. That
which her hand had found to do, she had done with all her might. The
result of her labors and long-sufferance had hitherto been but misfortune
and failure. Truly could she have called out with the Lady of Sorrows in
the Lamentations: "Attend, all ye who pass by, and see if there be any
sorrow like unto mine." Because we know how great her misery was, we can
more fully appreciate the extent of her heroism. Though, as she confessed
to her friends in her weariest moments, her heart was broken, she never
once swerved from allegiance to the heaven-given mandate, as Carlyle
calls it, "Work thou in well-doing!" She never faltered in the
accomplishment of the duty she had set for herself, nor forgot the
troubles of others because of her own. Though her difficulties
accumulated with alarming rapidity, there was no relaxation in her
attentions to Mr. and Mrs. Blood, in her care for her sister, nor in the
sympathy she gave to George Blood.

Perhaps the greatest joy that came to her during this year was the news
that Mr. Skeys had found a position for his brother-in-law in Lisbon. But
this pleasure was more than counterbalanced by the discouraging bulletins
of Fanny's health. Mr. Skeys was alarmed at his wife's increasing
weakness, and was anxious to gratify her every desire. Fanny expressed a
wish to have Mary with her during her confinement. The latter, with
characteristic unselfishness, consented, when Mr. Skeys asked her to go
to Lisbon, though in so doing she was obliged to leave school and house.
This shows the sincerity of her opinion that before true passion
everything but duty moves. To her, Fanny's need seemed greater than her
own; and she thought to fulfil her duty towards her sister, and to
provide for her welfare by giving her charge of her scholars and boarders
while she was away from them. Mary's decision was vigorously questioned
by her friends. Indeed, there were many reasons against it. It was feared
her absence from the school for a necessarily long period would be
injurious to it, and this eventually proved to be the case. The journey
was a long one for a woman to make alone. And last, but not least, she
had not the ready money to pay her expenses. But, despite all her
friends could say, she could not be moved from her original resolution.
When they saw their arguments were useless, they manifested their
friendship in a more practical manner. Mrs. Burgh lent her the necessary
sum of money for the journey. Godwin, however, thinks that in doing this
she was acting in behalf of Dr. Price, who modestly preferred to conceal
his share in the transaction. All impediments having thus been removed,
Mary, in the autumn of 1785, started upon the saddest, up to this date,
of her many missions of charity.

The reunion of the friends was a joyless pleasure. When Mary arrived in
Lisbon, she found Fanny in the last stages of her illness, and before she
had time to rest from her journey she began her work as sick-nurse. Four
hours after her arrival Fanny's child was born. It had been sad enough
for Mary to watch her mother's last moments and Eliza's insanity; but
this new duty was still more painful. She loved Fanny Blood with a
passion whose depth is beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. Her
affection for her was the one romance of her youth, and she lavished upon
it all the sweetness and tenderness, the enthusiasm and devotion of her
nature, which make her seem to us lovable above all women. And now this
friend, the best gift life had so far given her, was to be taken from
her. She saw Fanny grow weaker and weaker day by day, and knew that she
was powerless to avert the coming calamity. Yet whatever could be done,
she did. There never has been, and there never can be, a more faithful,
gentle nurse. The following letter gives a graphic description of her
journey, of the sad welcome which awaited her at its termination, and
the still sadder duties she fulfilled in Lisbon:--

       LISBON, Nov. or Dec. 1785.

     MY DEAR GIRLS,--I am beginning to awake out of a terrifying dream,
     for in that light do the transactions of these two or three last
     days appear. Before I say more, let me tell you that, when I
     arrived here, Fanny was in labor, and that four hours after she was
     delivered of a boy. The child is alive and well, and considering
     the _very, very_ low state to which Fanny was reduced she is better
     than could be expected. I am now watching her and the child. My
     active spirits have not been much at rest ever since I left
     England. I could not write to you on shipboard, the sea was so
     rough; and we had such hard gales of wind, the captain was afraid
     we should be dismasted. I cannot write to-night or collect my
     scattered thoughts, my mind is so unsettled. Fanny is so worn out,
     her recovery would be almost a resurrection, and my reason will
     scarce allow me to think it possible. I labor to be resigned, and
     by the time I am a little so, some faint hope sets my thoughts
     again afloat, and for a moment I look forward to days that will,
     alas! never come.

     I will try to-morrow to give you some little regular account of my
     journey, though I am almost afraid to look beyond the present
     moment. Was not my arrival providential? I can scarce be persuaded
     that I am here, and that so many things have happened in so short a
     time. My head grows light with thinking on it.

     _Friday morning._--Fanny has been so alarmingly ill since I wrote
     the above, I entirely gave her up, and yet I could not write and
     tell you so: it seemed like signing her death-warrant. Yesterday
     afternoon some of the most alarming symptoms a little abated, and
     she had a comfortable night; yet I rejoice with trembling lips, and
     am afraid to indulge hopes. She is very low. The stomach is so weak
     it will scarce bear to receive the slightest nourishment; in short,
     if I were to tell you all her complaints you would not wonder at my
     fears. The child, though a puny one, is well. I have got a
     wet-nurse for it. The packet does not sail till the latter end of
     next week, and I send this by a ship. I shall write by every
     opportunity. We arrived last Monday. We were only thirteen days at
     sea. The wind was so high and the sea so boisterous the water came
     in at the cabin windows; and the ship rolled about in such a
     manner, it was dangerous to stir. The women were sea-sick the whole
     time, and the poor invalid so oppressed by his complaints, I never
     expected he would live to see Lisbon. I have supported him for
     hours together gasping for breath, and at night, if I had been
     inclined to sleep, his dreadful cough would have kept me awake. You
     may suppose that I have not rested much since I came here, yet I am
     tolerably well, and calmer than I could expect to be. Could I not
     look for comfort where only 'tis to be found, I should have been
     mad before this, but I feel that I am supported by that Being who
     alone can heal a wounded spirit. May He bless you both.


Her state of uncertainty about poor Fanny did not last long. Shortly
after the above letter was written, the invalid died. Just as life was
beginning to smile upon her, she was called from it. She had worked so
long that when happiness at length came, she had no strength left to bear
it. The blessing her wrestling had wrought was but of short duration.

Godwin, in his Memoirs, says that Mary's trip to Portugal probably
enlarged her understanding. "She was admitted," he writes, "to the very
best company the English colony afforded. She made many profound
observations on the character of the natives and the baleful effects of
superstition." But it seems doubtful whether she really saw many people
in Lisbon, or gave great heed to what was going on around her. Arrived
there just in time to see her friend die, she remained but a short time
after all was over. There was no inducement for her to make a longer
stay. Her feelings for Mr. Skeys were not friendly. She could not forget
that had he but treated Fanny as she, for example, would have done had
she been in his place, this early death might have been prevented. Her
school, intrusted to Mrs. Bishop's care, was a strong reason for her
speedy return to England. The cause which had called her from it being
gone, she was anxious to return to her post.

An incident highly characteristic of her is told of the journey home. She
had nursed a poor sick man on the way to Portugal; on the way back she
was instrumental in saving the lives of many men. The ship in which she
sailed met at mid-sea a French vessel so dismantled and storm-beaten that
it was in imminent risk of sinking, and its stock of provisions was
almost exhausted. Its officers hailed the English ship, begging its
captain to take them and their entire crew on board. The latter
hesitated. This was no trifling request. He had his own crew and
passengers to consider, and he feared to lay such a heavy tax on the
provisions provided for a certain number only. This was a case which
aroused Mary's tenderest sympathy. It was impossible for her to witness
it unmoved. She could not without a protest allow her fellow-creatures to
be so cruelly deserted. Like another Portia come to judgment, she
clinched the difficulty by representing to the captain that if he did not
yield to their entreaties she would expose his inhumanity upon her return
to England. Her arguments prevailed. The sufferers were saved, and the
intercessor in their behalf added one more to the long list of her good
deeds. Never has there been a woman, not even a Saint Rose of Lima or a
Saint Catherine of Siena, who could say as truly as Mary

      "... I sate among men
    And I have loved these."




There was little pleasure for Mary in her home-coming. The school, whose
difficulties had begun before her departure, had prospered still less
under Mrs. Bishop's care. Many of the pupils had been taken away. Eliza,
her quick temper and excitability aggravated at that time by her late
misfortunes, was not a fitting person to have the control of children.
She had thoughtlessly quarrelled with their most profitable boarder, the
mother of the three boys, who had in consequence given up her rooms. As
yet no one else had been found to occupy them. The rent of the house was
so high that these losses left the sisters without the means to pay it.
They were therefore in debt, and that deeply, for people with no
immediate, or even remote, prospects of an addition to their income. Then
the Bloods during Mary's absence had fallen further into the Slough of
Despond, out of which, now their daughter was dead, there was no one to
help them. George could not aid them, because, though they did not know
it, he was just then without employment. Unable to live amicably with his
brother-in-law after Fanny's death, he had resigned his position in
Lisbon and gone to Ireland, where for a long while he could find nothing
to do. Mr. Skeys simply refused to satisfy the never-ceasing wants of his
wife's parents. He cannot be severely censured when their shiftlessness
is borne in mind. He probably had already received many appeals from
them. But Mary could not accept their troubles so passively.

To add to her distress, she was weakened by the painful task she had just
completed. She was low-spirited and broken-hearted, and really ill. Her
eyes gave out; and no greater inconvenience could have just then befallen
her. Her mental activity was temporarily paralyzed, and yet she knew that
prompt measures were necessary to avert the evils crowding upon her. She
had truly been anointed to wrestle and not to reign.

There was no chance of relief from her own family. Her father had married
again, but his second marriage had not improved him. He had descended to
the lowest stage of drunkenness and insignificance. His home was in
Laugharne, Wales, where he barely managed to exist. James, the second
son, had gone to sea in search of better fortune. Charles, the youngest,
was not old enough to seek his, and hence had to endure as best he could
the wretchedness of the Wollstonecraft household. Instead of Mary's
receiving help from this quarter, she was called upon to give it. Kinder
to her father than he had ever been to her, she never ignored his
difficulties. When she had money, she shared it with him. When she had
none, she did all she could to force Edward, the one prosperous member of
the family, to send his father the pecuniary assistance which, it seems,
he had promised.

In whatever direction she looked, she saw misery and unhappiness. The
present was unendurable, the future hopeless. For a brief interval she
was almost crushed by her circumstances. To George Blood, now even dearer
to her than he had been before, she laid bare the weariness of her heart.
Shortly after her return she wrote him this letter, pathetic in its

       NEWINGTON GREEN, Feb. 4, 1786.

     I write to you, my dear George, lest my silence should make you
     uneasy; yet what have I to say that will not have the same effect?
     Things do not go well with me, and my spirits seem forever flown. I
     was a month on my passage, and the weather was so tempestuous we
     were several times in imminent danger. I did not expect ever to
     have reached land. If it had pleased Heaven to have called me
     hence, what a world of care I should have missed! I have lost all
     relish for pleasure, and life seems a burden almost too heavy to be
     endured. My head is stupid, and my heart sick and exhausted. But
     why should I worry you? and yet, if I do not tell you my vexations,
     what can I write about?

     Your father and mother are tolerably well, and inquire most
     affectionately concerning you. They do not suspect that you have
     left Lisbon, and I do not intend informing them of it till you are
     provided for. I am very unhappy on their account, for though I am
     determined they shall share my last shilling, yet I have every
     reason to apprehend extreme distress, and of course they must be
     involved in it. The school dwindles to nothing, and we shall soon
     lose our last boarder, Mrs. Disney. She and the girls quarrelled
     while I was away, which contributed to make the house very
     disagreeable. Her sons are to be whole boarders at Mrs. Cockburn's.
     Let me turn my eyes on which side I will, I can only anticipate
     misery. Are such prospects as these likely to heal an almost broken
     heart? The loss of Fanny was sufficient of itself to have thrown a
     cloud over my brightest days; what effect, then, must it have when
     I am bereft of every other comfort? I have, too, many debts. I
     cannot think of remaining any longer in this house, the rent is so
     enormous; and where to go, without money or friends, who can point
     out? My eyes are very bad and my memory gone. I am not fit for any
     situation; and as for Eliza, I don't know what will become of her.
     My constitution is impaired. I hope I shan't live long, yet I may
     be a tedious time dying.

     Well, I am too impatient. The will of heaven be done! I will labor
     to be resigned. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." I
     scarce know what I write, yet my writing at all when my mind is so
     disturbed is a proof to you that I can never be lost so entirely in
     misery as to forget those I love. I long to hear that you are
     settled. It is the only quarter from which I can reasonably expect
     pleasure. I have received a very short, unsatisfactory letter from
     Lisbon. It was written to apologize for not sending the money to
     your father which he promised. It would have been particularly
     acceptable to them at this time; but he is prudent, and will not
     run any hazard to serve a friend. Indeed, delicacy made me conceal
     from him my dismal situation, but he must know how much I am

     I am very low-spirited, and of course my letter is very dull. I
     will not lengthen it out in the same strain, but conclude with what
     alone will be acceptable, an assurance of love and regard.

     Believe me to be ever your sincere and affectionate friend,


"There is but one true cure for suffering, and that is action," Dr.
Maudsley says. The first thing Mary did in her misery was to undertake
new work, this time a literary venture, not for herself, but for the
benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Blood. Their son-in-law having refused to
contribute from his plenty, their daughter's friend came forward and gave
from her nothing.

At the instigation of Mr. Hewlet, one of her friends already mentioned,
she wrote a small pamphlet called "Thoughts on the Education of
Daughters." This gentleman rated her powers so high that he felt sure of
her success as a writer. As he was well acquainted with Mr. Johnson, a
prominent bookseller in Fleet Street, he could promise that her
manuscript would be dealt with fairly. Her choice of subject was, in one
way, fortunate. Being a teacher she could speak on educational matters
with authority. But this first work is not striking or remarkable.
Indeed, it is chiefly worth notice because it was the means of
introducing her to Mr. Johnson, who was a true friend to her through her
darkest, as well as through her brightest, days, and whose influence was
strong in shaping her career. He paid her ten guineas for her pamphlet,
and these she at once gave to Mr. and Mrs. Blood, who were thereby
enabled to leave England and go to Dublin. There, they thought, because
they and their disgrace were not yet known, the chances of their starting
in life afresh were greater.

It was now time for Mary to turn her attention to her own affairs. It was
absolutely necessary to give up the school. Her presence could not recall
the pupils who had left it, and her debts were pressing. The success of
the sisters had been too slight to tempt them to establish a similar
institution in another town. They determined to separate, and each to
earn her livelihood alone. Mary was not loath to do this. Because of her
superior administrative ability, too large a share of the work in the
school had devolved upon her, while her sisters' society was a hindrance
rather than a comfort. She was ready to sacrifice herself for others, but
she had enough common sense to realize that too great unselfishness in
details would in the end destroy her power of aiding in larger matters.
She could do more for Eliza and Everina away from them, than if she
continued to live with them.

What she desired most earnestly was to devote all her time to literary
work. Mr. Hewlet had represented to her that she would be certain to make
an ample support by writing. Mr. Johnson had received her pamphlet
favorably, and had asked for further contributions. But her present want
was urgent, and she could not wait on a probability. She had absolutely
no money to live upon while she made a second experiment. She had learned
thoroughly the lesson of patience and of self-restraint, and she resolved
for the present to continue to teach. By doing this, she could still find
a few spare hours for literary purposes, while she could gradually save
enough money to warrant her beginning the life for which she longed. One
plan, abandoned, however, before she attempted to put it into execution,
she describes in the following letter to George Blood. The tone in which
she writes is much less hopeless than that of the letter last quoted.
Already the remedy of activity was beginning to have its effect:--

       NEWINGTON GREEN, May 22, 1787.

     By this time, my dear George, I hope your father and mother have
     reached Dublin. I long to hear of their safe arrival. A few days
     after they set sail, I received a letter from Skeys. He laments
     his inability to assist them, and dwells on his own embarrassments.
     How glad I am they are gone! My affairs are hastening to a
     crisis.... Some of my creditors cannot afford to wait for their
     money; as to leaving England in debt, I am determined not to do
     it.... Everina and Eliza are both endeavoring to go out into the
     world, the one as a companion, and the other as a teacher, and I
     believe I shall continue some time on the Green. I intend taking a
     little cheap lodging, and living without a servant; and the few
     scholars I have will maintain me. I have done with all worldly
     pursuits and wishes; I only desire to submit without being
     dependent on the caprice of our fellow-creatures. I shall have many
     solitary hours, but I have not much to hope for in life, and so it
     would be absurd to give way to fear. Besides, I try to look on the
     best side, and not to despond. While I am trying to do my duty in
     that station in which Providence has placed me, I shall enjoy some
     tranquil moments, and the pleasures I have the greatest relish for
     are not entirely out of my reach.... I have been trying to muster
     up my fortitude, and laboring for patience to bear my many trials.
     Surely, when I could determine to survive Fanny, I can endure
     poverty and all the lesser ills of life. I dreaded, oh! how I
     dreaded this time, and now it is arrived I am calmer than I
     expected to be. I have been very unwell; my constitution is much
     impaired; the prison walls are decaying, and the prisoner will ere
     long get free.... Remember that I am your truly affectionate friend
     and sister,


Perhaps the uncertainty of keeping her pupils, or the double work
necessitated by this project, discouraged her. At all events, it was
relinquished when other and seemingly better proposals were made to her.
Some of her friends at Newington Green recommended her to the notice of
Mr. Prior, then Assistant Master at Eton, and his wife. Through them she
was offered the situation of governess to the children of Lord
Kingsborough, an Irish nobleman. If she accepted it, she would be spared
the anxiety which a school of her own had heretofore brought her. The
salary would be forty pounds a year, out of which she calculated she
could pay her debts and then assist Mrs. Bishop. But she would lose her
independence, and would expose herself to the indifference or contempt
then the portion of governesses. "I should be shut out from society," she
explained to George Blood, "and be debarred the pleasures of imperfect
friendship, as I should on every side be surrounded by unequals. To live
only on terms of civility and common benevolence, without any interchange
of little acts of kindness and tenderness, would be to me extremely
irksome." The prospect, it must be admitted, was not pleasant. But still
the advantages outweighed the drawbacks, and Mary agreed to Lady
Kingsborough's terms.

Mr. and Mrs. Prior intended taking a trip to Ireland, and they suggested
that she should accompany them. Travelling was not easy in those days,
and she decided to wait and go with them. But, for some reason, they did
not start as soon as they had expected. She had already joined them in
their home at Eton, in which place their delay detained her for some
time. This gave her the opportunity to study the school and the
principles upon which it was conducted. The entire system met with her
disapprobation, and afterwards, in her "Rights of Women," she freely and
strongly expressed her unfavorable opinion. Judging from what she there
saw, she concluded that schools regulated according to the same rules
were hot-beds of vice. Nothing disgusted her so much in this institution
as the false basis upon which religion was established. The slavery to
forms, demanded of the boys, seemed to her to at once undermine their
moral uprightness. What, indeed, could be expected of a boy who would
take the sacrament for no other reason than to avoid the fine of half a
guinea imposed upon those who would not conform to this ceremony? Her
visit did much towards developing and formulating her ideas on the
subject of education.

Mrs. Prior seems to have given her every chance to become acquainted not
only with the school, but with the social life at Eton. But her interest
in the gay world, as there represented, was lukewarm. Its shallowness
provoked her. She, looking upon life as real and earnest, and not as a
mere playground, could not sympathize with women who gave themselves up
to dress, nor with men who expended their energies in efforts to raise a
laugh. Wit of rather an affected kind was the fashion of the day. At its
best it was odious, but when manufactured by the weaklings of society, it
was beyond endurance. Heine says that there is no man so crazy that he
may not find a crazier comrade who will understand him. And it may be
said as truly, that there is no man so foolish that he will not meet
still greater fools ready to admire his folly. To Mary Wollstonecraft it
was doubtful which was most to be despised, the affectation itself or the
applause which nourished it. The governess elect, whose heart was heavy
laden, saw in the flippant gayeties of Eton naught but vanity and
vexation of spirit.

She wrote to Everina on the 9th of October,--

     The time I spend here appears lost. While I remained in England I
     would fain have been near those I love.... I could not live the
     life they lead at Eton; nothing but dress and ridicule going
     forward, and I really believe their fondness for ridicule tends to
     make them affected, the women in their manners and the men in their
     conversation; for witlings abound, and puns fly about like
     crackers, though you would scarcely guess they had any meaning in
     them, if you did not hear the noise they create. So much company
     without any sociability would be to me an insupportable fatigue. I
     am, 'tis true, quite alone in a crowd, yet cannot help reflecting
     on the scene around me, and my thoughts harass me. Vanity in one
     shape or other reigns triumphant.... My thoughts and wishes tend to
     that land where the God of love will wipe away all tears from our
     eyes, where sincerity and truth will flourish, and the imagination
     will not dwell on pleasing illusions which vanish like dreams when
     experience forces us to see things as they really are. With what
     delight do I anticipate the time when neither death nor accidents
     of any kind will interpose to separate me from those I love....
     Adieu; believe me to be your affectionate friend and sister,


Finally the time came for her departure. In October, 1787, she set out
with Mr. and Mrs. Prior for Ireland, and towards the end of the month
arrived at the castle of Lord Kingsborough in Mitchelstown. Her first
impressions were gloomy. But, indeed, her depression and weakness were so
great, that she looked at all things, as if through a glass, darkly. Her
sorrows were still too fresh to be forgotten in idle curiosity about the
inhabitants and customs of her new home. Even if she had been in the best
of spirits, her arrival at the castle would have been a trying moment. It
is never easy for one woman to face alone several of her sex, who, she
knows, are waiting to criticise her. There were then staying with Lady
Kingsborough her step-mother and her three unmarried step-sisters and
several guests. Governesses in this household had fared much as
companions in Mrs. Dawson's. They had come and gone in rapid succession.
Therefore Mary was examined by these ladies much as a new horse is
inspected by a racer, or a new dog by a sportsman. She passed through the
ordeal successfully, but it left her courage at low ebb. Her first report
to her sister is not cheerful:--

       THE CASTLE, MITCHELSTOWN, Oct. 30, 1787.

     Well, my dear girl, I am at length arrived at my journey's end. I
     sigh when I say so, but it matters not, I must labor for content,
     and try to reconcile myself to a state which is contrary to every
     feeling of my soul. I can scarcely persuade myself that I am awake;
     my whole life appears like a frightful vision, and equally
     disjointed. I have been so very low-spirited for some days past, I
     could not write. All the moments I could spend in solitude were
     lost in sorrow and unavailing tears. There was such a solemn kind
     of stupidity about this place as froze my very blood. I entered the
     great gates with the same kind of feeling as I should have if I was
     going into the Bastille. You can make allowance for the feelings
     which the General would term ridiculous or artificial. I found I
     was to encounter a host of females,--My Lady, her step-mother and
     three sisters, and Mrses. and Misses without number, who, of
     course, would examine me with the most minute attention. I cannot
     attempt to give you a description of the family, I am so low; I
     will only mention some of the things which particularly worry me. I
     am sure much more is expected from me than I am equal to. With
     respect to French, I am certain Mr. P. has misled them, and I
     expect in consequence of it to be very much mortified. Lady K. is a
     shrewd, clever woman, a great talker. I have not seen much of her,
     as she is confined to her room by a sore throat; but I have seen
     half a dozen of her companions. I mean not her children, but her
     dogs. To see a woman without any softness in her manners caressing
     animals, and using infantine expressions, is, you may conceive,
     very absurd and ludicrous, but a fine lady is a new species to me
     of animal. I am, however, treated like a gentlewoman by every part
     of the family, but the forms and parade of high life suit not my
     mind.... I hear a fiddle below, the servants are dancing, and the
     rest of the family are diverting themselves. I only am melancholy
     and alone. To tell the truth, I hope part of my misery arises from
     disordered nerves, for I would fain believe my mind is not so very
     weak. The children are, literally speaking, wild Irish, unformed
     and not very pleasing; but you shall have a full and true account,
     my dear girl, in a few days....

     I am your affectionate sister and sincere friend,


It was at least fortunate that she escaped, with Lady Kingsborough, the
indignities which she had feared she, as governess, would receive.
Instead of being placed on a level with the servants, as was often the
fate of gentlewomen in her position, she was treated as one of the
family, but she had little else to be thankful for. There was absolutely
no congeniality between herself and her employers. She had no tastes or
views in common with them. Lady Kingsborough was a thorough woman of the
world. She was clever but cold, and her natural coldness had been
increased by the restraints and exactions of her social rank. If she
rouged to preserve her good looks, and talked to exhibit her cleverness,
she was fulfilling all the requirements of her station in life. Her
character and conduct were in every way opposed to Mary's ideals. The
latter, who was instinctively honest, and who never stooped to curry
favor with any one, must have found it difficult to treat Lady
Kingsborough with a deference she did not feel, but which her subordinate
position obliged her to show. The struggle between impulse and duty thus
caused was doubtless one of the chief factors in making her experiences
in Ireland so painful. How great this struggle was can be best estimated
when it is known what she thought of the mother of her pupils. She was
never thrown into such intimate relations with any other woman of
fashion, and therefore it is not illogical to believe that many passages
in the "Rights of Women," relating to women of this class, are
descriptions of Lady Kingsborough. The allusion to pet dogs in the
following seems to establish the identity beyond dispute:--

     "... She who takes her dogs to bed, and nurses them with a parade
     of sensibility when sick, will suffer her babes to grow up crooked
     in a nursery. This illustration of my argument is drawn from a
     matter of fact. The woman whom I allude to was handsome, reckoned
     very handsome by those who do not miss the mind when the face is
     plump and fair; but her understanding had not been led from female
     duties by literature, nor her innocence debauched by knowledge. No,
     she was quite feminine according to the masculine acceptation of
     the word; and so far from loving these spoiled brutes that filled
     the place which her children ought to have occupied, she only
     lisped out a pretty mixture of French and English nonsense, to
     please the men who flocked round her. The wife, mother, and human
     creature were all swallowed up by the factitious character which an
     improper education and the selfish vanity of beauty had produced.

     "I do not like to make a distinction without a difference, and I
     own that I have been as much disgusted by the fine lady who took
     her lap-dog to her bosom, instead of her child, as by the ferocity
     of a man, who beating his horse, declared that he knew as well when
     he did wrong as a Christian."

If Lady Kingsborough was a representative lady of fashion, her husband
was quite as much the typical country lord. Tom Jones was still the ideal
hero of fiction, and Squire Westerns had not disappeared from real life.
Lord Kingsborough was good-natured and kind, but, like the rest of the
species, coarse. "His countenance does not promise more than good humor
and a little _fun_, not refined," Mary told Mrs. Bishop. The three
step-sisters were too preoccupied with matrimonial calculations to
manifest their character, if indeed they had any. Clearly, in such a
household Mary Wollstonecraft was as a child of Israel among the

The society of the children, though they were "wild Irish," was more to
her taste than that of the grown-up members of the family. Three were
given into her charge. At first she thought them not very pleasing, but
after a better acquaintance she grew fond of them. The eldest, Margaret,
afterwards Lady Mountcashel, was then fourteen years of age. She was very
talented, and a "sweet girl," as Mary called her in a letter to Mrs.
Bishop. She became deeply attached to her new governess, not with the
passing fancy of a child, but with a lasting devotion. The other children
also learned to love her, but being younger there was less friendship in
their affection. They were afraid of their mother, who lavished her
caresses upon her dogs, until she had none left for them. Therefore, when
Mary treated them affectionately and sympathized with their interests and
pleasures, they naturally turned to her and gave her the love which no
one else seemed to want. That this was the case was entirely Lady
Kingsborough's fault, but she resented it bitterly, and it was later a
cause of serious complaint against the too competent governess. The
affection of her pupils, which was her principal pleasure during her
residence in Ireland, thus became in the end a misfortune.

A more prolific source of trouble to her was, strangely enough, her
interest in them. Lady Kingsborough had very positive ideas upon the
subject of her children's education, and by insisting upon adherence to
them she made Mary's task doubly hard. Had she not been interfered with,
her position would not have been so unpleasant. She could put her whole
soul into her work, whatever it might be, and find in its success one of
her chief joys. She wished to do her utmost for Margaret and her sisters,
but this was impossible, since she knew the system Lady Kingsborough
exacted to be vicious. The latter cared more for a show of knowledge than
for knowledge itself, and laid the greatest stress upon the acquirement
of accomplishments. This was not in accord with Mary's theories, who
prized reality and not appearances. A less conscientious woman might have
contented herself with the thought that she was carrying out the wishes
of her employer. But Mary could not quiet her scruples in this way. She
was tormented by the sense of duty but half fulfilled. She realized, by
her own sad experience, how much depends upon the training received in
childhood, and yet she was powerless to bring up her pupils in the way
she knew to be best. She had, besides, constantly before her in Lady
Kingsborough and her sisters a, to her, melancholy example of the result
of the methods she was asked to adopt. They had been carefully taught
many different languages and much history, but had been as carefully
instilled with the idea that their studies were but means to social
success and to a brilliant marriage. The consequence was that their
education, despite its thoroughness, had made them puppets, self-interest
being the wire which moved them. She did not want this to be the fate of
her pupils, but she could see no escape for them.

In addition to her honest anxiety for their future, she must have been
worried by the certainty that, if she remained with them, she would be
held responsible for their character and conduct in after-life. Though
she had charge of them only for a year, this eventually proved to be the
case. Margaret's reputation as Lady Mountcashel was not wholly unsullied,
and when it was remembered that she had, at one time, been under the
influence of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the "Rights of Women," the
fault was attributed to the immoral and irreligious teaching of the
latter. Never was any woman so unjustly condemned. In the first place,
Mary was not her governess long enough to actually change her nature, or
to influence her for life; and, in the second place, she was not allowed
to have her own way with her pupils. Had she been free she would have
been more apt to encourage a spirit of piety, and inculcate a fine moral
sense. For she was at that period in a deeply religious frame of mind,
while she did all she could to counteract what she considered the
deteriorating tendencies of the children's home training. As Kegan Paul
says, "Her whole endeavor was to train them for higher pursuits and to
instil into them a desire for a wider culture than fell to the lot of
most girls in those days. Her sorrow was deep that her pupils' lives were
such as to render sustained study and religious habits of mind alike

This caused her much unhappiness. Her worriment developed into positive
illness. After she had been with them some months, the strain seemed more
than she could bear, as she confessed to Mr. Johnson, to whom she wrote
from Dublin on the 14th of April,--

     I am still an invalid, and begin to believe that I ought never to
     expect to enjoy health. My mind preys on my body, and, when I
     endeavor to be useful, I grow too much interested for my own peace.
     Confined almost entirely to the society of children, I am anxiously
     solicitous for their future welfare, and mortified beyond measure
     when counteracted in my endeavors to improve them. I feel all a
     mother's fears for the swarm of little ones which surround me, and
     observe disorders, without having power to apply the proper
     remedies. How can I be reconciled to life, when it is always a
     painful warfare, and when I am deprived of all the pleasures I
     relish? I allude to rational conversations and domestic affections.
     Here, alone, a poor solitary individual in a strange land, tied to
     one spot, and subject to the caprice of another, can I be
     contented? I am desirous to convince you that I have _some_ cause
     for sorrow, and am not without reason detached from life. I shall
     hope to hear that you are well, and am yours sincerely,


The family troubles followed Mary to Ireland. The news which reached her
from home was discouraging. Edward Wollstonecraft at this period declared
he would do nothing more for his father. Prudent, and with none of his
sister's unselfishness, he grew tired of the drain upon his purse. There
was also difficulty about some money which Mary and her sisters
considered theirs by right, but which the eldest brother, with shameless
selfishness, refused to give up. What the exact circumstances were is not
certain; but it could have been no light tax upon Mary to contribute the
necessary amount for her father's support, and no small disappointment to
be deprived of money which she thought to be legally hers. Money cares
were to her what the Old Man of the Sea was to Sinbad. They were a burden
from which she was never free. When from forty pounds a year she had to
take half to pay her debts, and then give from the remainder to her
father, her share of her earnings was not large. And yet she counted upon
her savings to purchase her future release from a life of dependence.

Though she wrote to Mr. Johnson that she was almost entirely confined to
the society of children, she really did see much of the family, often
taking part in their amusements. Judging from the attractions and
conversational powers which made her a favorite in London society, it is
but natural to conclude that she was an addition to the household. She
seems at times to have exerted herself to be agreeable. Godwin records
the extreme discomfiture of a fine lady of quality, when, on one
occasion, after having singled her out and treated her with marked
friendliness, she discovered that she had been entertaining the
children's governess! Mary cared nothing for these people, but as they
were civil to her, she returned their politeness by showing them she was
well worth being polite to. Low-spirited as she was, she mustered up
sufficient courage to discuss the husband-hunts of the young ladies and
even to notice the dogs. This was, indeed, a concession. To Everina she
sent a bulletin--not untouched with humor--of her wonderful and
praiseworthy progress with the inmates of the castle:--

       MITCHELSTOWN, Nov. 17, 1787.

     ... Confined to the society of a set of silly females, I have no
     social converse, and their boisterous spirits and unmeaning
     laughter exhaust me, not forgetting hourly domestic bickerings. The
     topics of matrimony and dress take their turn, not in a very
     sentimental style,--alas! poor sentiment, it has no residence here.
     I almost wish the girls were novel-readers and romantic. I declare
     false refinement is better than none at all; but these girls
     understand several languages, and have read _cartloads_ of history,
     for their mother was a prudent woman. Lady K.'s passion for animals
     fills up the hours which are not spent in dressing. All her
     children have been ill,--very disagreeable fevers. Her ladyship
     visited them in a formal way, though their situation called forth
     my tenderness, and I endeavored to amuse them, while she lavished
     awkward fondness on her dogs. I think now I hear her infantine
     lisp. She rouges, and, in short, is a fine lady, without fancy or
     sensibility. I am almost tormented to death by dogs. But you will
     perceive I am not under the influence of my darling passion--pity;
     it is not always so. I make allowance and adapt myself, talk of
     getting husbands for the _ladies_--and the _dogs_, and am
     wonderfully entertaining; and then I retire to my room, form
     figures in the fire, listen to the wind, or view the Gotties, a
     fine range of mountains near us, and so does time waste away in
     apathy or misery.... I am drinking asses' milk, but do not find it
     of any service. I am very ill, and so low-spirited my tears flow in
     torrents almost insensibly. I struggle with myself, but I hope my
     Heavenly Father will not be extreme to mark my weakness, and that
     He will have compassion upon a poor bruised reed, and pity a
     miserable wretch, whose sorrows He only knows.... I almost wish my
     warfare was over.

The religious tone of this letter calls for special notice, since it was
written at the very time she was supposed to be imparting irreligious
principles to her pupils.

Mary had none of the false sentiment of a Sterne, and could not waste
sympathy over brutes, when she felt that there were human beings who
needed it. Her ladyship's dogs worried her because of the contrast
between the attention they received and the indifference which fell to
the lot of the children. Besides, the then distressing condition of the
laboring population in Ireland made the luxuries and silly affectations
of the rich doubly noticeable. Mary saw for herself the poverty of the
peasantry. Margaret was allowed to visit the poor, and she accompanied
her on her charitable rounds. The almost bestial squalor in which these
people lived was another cruel contrast to the pampered existence led by
the dogs at the castle. She had none of Strap's veneration for the
epithet of gentleman. Eliza owned to a "sneaking kindness for people of
quality." But Mary cared only for a man's intrinsic merit. His rank could
not cover his faults. Therefore, with the misery and destitution of so
many men and women staring her in the face, the amusements and
occupations of the few within Lady Kingsborough's household continually
grated upon her finer instincts.

In the winter of 1788 the family went to Dublin, and Mary accompanied
them. She liked the society of the capital no better than she had that of
the country. She, however, occasionally shared in its frivolities, her
relations to Lady Kingsborough obliging her to do this. She was still
young enough to possess the capacity for enjoyment, though her many
hardships and sorrows had made her think this impossible, and she was
sometimes carried away by the gayety around her. But, as thorough a hater
of shams as Carlyle, she was disgusted with herself once the passing
excitement was over. From Dublin she wrote to Everina giving her a
description of a mask to which she had gone, and of which she had
evidently been a conspicuous feature:--

       DUBLIN, March 14, 1788.

     ... I am very weak to-day, but I can account for it. The day before
     yesterday there was a masquerade; in the course of conversation
     some time before, I happened to wish to go to it. Lady K. offered
     me two tickets for myself and Miss Delane to accompany me. I
     refused them on account of the expense of dressing properly. She
     then, to obviate that objection, lent me a black domino. I was out
     of spirits, and thought of another excuse; but she proposed to take
     me and Betty Delane to the houses of several people of fashion who
     saw masks. We went to a great number, and were a tolerable, nay, a
     much-admired, group. Lady K. went in a domino with a smart
     cockade; Miss Moore dressed in the habit of one of the females of
     the new discovered islands; Betty D. as a forsaken shepherdess; and
     your sister Mary in a black domino. As it was taken for granted the
     stranger who had just arrived could not speak the language, I was
     to be her interpreter, which afforded me an ample field for satire.
     I happened to be very melancholy in the morning, as I am almost
     every morning, but at night my fever gives me false spirits; this
     night the lights, the novelty of the scene, and all things together
     contributed to make me _more_ than half mad. I gave full scope to a
     satirical vein, and suppose ...

Unfortunately, the rest of the letter is lost.

In the midst of her duties and dissipations she managed to find some
little time for more solid pleasures and more congenial work. In her
letters she speaks of nothing with so much enthusiasm as of Rousseau,
whose "Émile" she read while she was in Dublin. She wrote to Everina, on
the 24th of March,--

     I believe I told you before that as a nation I do not admire the
     Irish; and as to the great world and its frivolous ceremonies, I
     cannot away with them; they fatigue me. I thank Heaven I was not so
     unfortunate as to be born a lady of quality. I am now reading
     Rousseau's "Émile," and love his paradoxes. He chooses a common
     capacity to educate, and gives as a reason that a genius will
     educate itself. However, he rambles into that chimerical world in
     which I have too often wandered, and draws the usual conclusion
     that all is vanity and vexation of spirit. He was a strange,
     inconsistent, unhappy, clever creature, yet he possessed an
     uncommon portion of sensibility and penetration....

       Adieu, yours sincerely,

It was also during this period that she wrote a novel called "Mary." It
is a narrative of her acquaintance and friendship with Fanny Blood,--her
_In Memoriam_ of the friend she so dearly loved. In writing it she sought
relief for the bitter sorrow with which her loss had filled her heart.

The Irish gayeties lasted through the winter. In the spring the family
crossed over to England and went to Bristol, Hotwells, and Bath. In all
these places Mary saw more of the gay world, but it was only to deepen
the disgust with which it inspired her. Those were the days when men
drank at dinner until they fell under the table; when young women thought
of nothing but beaux, and were exhibited by their fond mothers as so much
live-stock to be delivered to the highest bidder; and when dowagers,
whose flirting season was over, spent all their time at the card-table.
Nowhere were the absurdities and emptiness of polite society so fully
exposed as at these three fashionable resorts. Even the frivolity of
Dublin paled in comparison. Mary's health improved in England. The Irish
climate seems to have specially disagreed with her. But notwithstanding
the much-needed improvement in her physical condition, and despite her
occasional concessions to her circumstances, her life became more
unbearable every day, while her sympathies and tastes grew farther apart
from those of her employers.

But while even the little respect she felt for Lord and Lady Kingsborough
lessened, her love for the children increased. This they returned with
interest. Once, when one of them had to go into the country with her
mother and without her governess, she cried so bitterly that she made
herself ill. The strength of Margaret's affection can be partly measured
by the following passage from a letter written by Mary shortly after
their separation:--

     "I had, the other day, the satisfaction of again receiving a letter
     from my poor dear Margaret. With all the mother's fondness, I could
     transcribe a part of it. She says, every day her affection to me,
     and dependence on heaven, increase, etc. I miss her innocent
     caresses, and sometimes indulge a pleasing hope, that she may be
     allowed to cheer my childless age if I am to live to be old. At any
     rate, I may hear of the virtues I may not contemplate."

Lady Kingsborough made no effort to win her children's affection, but she
was unwilling that they should bestow it upon a stranger. She could not
forgive the governess who had taken her place in their hearts. She and
her eldest daughter had on this account frequent quarrels. Mary's
position was therefore untenable. Her surroundings were uncongenial, her
duties distasteful, and she was disapproved of by her employer. Nothing
was needed but a decent pretext for the latter to dismiss her. This she
before long found when, Mary being temporarily separated from her pupils,
Margaret showed more regret than her mother thought the occasion
warranted. Lady Kingsborough seized the opportunity to give the governess
her dismissal. This was in the autumn of 1788, and the family were in
London. Mary had for some weeks known that this end was inevitable, but
still her departure, when the time came, was sudden. It was a trial to
her to leave the children, but escape from the household was a joyful
emancipation. Again she was obliged to face the world, and again she
emerged triumphant from her struggles. With each new change she advanced
a step in her intellectual progress. After she left Lady Kingsborough she
began the literary life which was to make her famous.




During her residence with the family of Lady Kingsborough in Ireland,
Mary, as has been seen, corresponded with Mr. Johnson the publisher. In
her hour of need she went to him for advice and assistance. He strongly
recommended, as he had more than once before, that she should give up
teaching altogether, and devote her time to literary work.

Mr. Johnson was a man of considerable influence and experience, and he
was enterprising and progressive. He published most of the principal
books of the day. The Edgeworths sent him their novels from Ireland, and
Cowper his poetry from Olney. One day he gave the reading world Mrs.
Barbauld's works for the young, and the next, the speculations of
reformers and social philosophers whose rationalism deterred many another
publisher. It was for printing the Rev. Gilbert Wakefield's too
plain-spoken writings that he was, at a later date, fined and imprisoned.
Quick to discern true merit, he was equally prompt in encouraging it. As
Mary once said of him, he was a man before he was a bookseller. His kind,
generous nature made him as ready to assist needy and deserving authors
with his purse as he was to publish their works. From the time he had
seen Mary's pamphlet on the "Education of Daughters," he had been deeply
and honestly interested in her. It had convinced him of her power to do
something greater. Her letters had sustained him in this opinion, and her
novel still further confirmed it. He now, in addition to urging her to
try to support herself by writing, promised her continual employment if
she would settle in London.

To-day there would seem no possible reason for any one in her position to
hesitate before accepting such an offer. But in her time it was an
unusual occurrence for a woman to adopt literature as a profession. It is
true there had been a great change since Swift declared that "not one
gentleman's daughter in a thousand has been brought to read or understand
her own natural tongue." Women had learned not only to read, but to
write. Miss Burney had written her novels, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu her
Letters, and Mrs. Inchbald her "Simple Story" and her plays, before Mary
came to London. Though the Amelias and Lydia Melfords of fiction were
still favorite types, the blue-stocking was gaining ascendency. Because
she was such a _rara avis_ she received a degree of attention and
devotion which now appears extraordinary. Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Opie,
Maria Edgeworth and Mrs. Barbauld, at the end of the last and beginning
of this century, were fêted and praised as seldom falls to the lot of
their successors of the present generation. But, despite this fact, they
were not quite sure that they were keeping within the limits of feminine
modesty by publishing their writings. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had
considered it necessary to apologize for having translated Epictetus.
Miss Burney shrank from publicity, and preferred the slavery of a court
to the liberty of home life, which meant time for writing. Good Mrs.
Barbauld feared she "stepped out of the bounds of female reserve" when
she became an author. They all wrote either for amusement or as a last
resource to eke out a slender income. But Mary would, by agreeing to Mr.
Johnson's proposition, deliberately throw over other chances of making a
livelihood to rely entirely upon literature. She was young, unmarried,
and, to all intents and purposes, alone in the world. Such a step was
unprecedented in English literary annals. She would really be, as she
wrote to her sister, the first of a new genus. Her conduct would
unquestionably be criticised and censured. She would have to run the
gauntlet of public opinion, a much more trying ordeal than that through
which she had passed at the castle in Mitchelstown.

But, on the other hand, she would thereby gain freedom and independence,
for which she had always yearned above all else; her work would be
congenial; and, what to her was even more important, she would obtain
better means to further the welfare of her sisters and brothers, and to
assist her father. Compared to these inducements, the fact that people
would look upon her askance was a very insignificant consideration. She
believed in a woman's right to independence; and, the first chance she
had, she acted according to her lights.

But, at the same time, she knew that if her friends heard of her
determination before she had carried it into effect, they would try to
dissuade her from it. She was firmly resolved not to be influenced in
this matter by any one; and therefore, to avoid the unpleasant
discussions and disputes that might arise from a difference of opinion,
she maintained strict secrecy as to her plans. From her letters it seems
probable that she had made definite arrangements with Mr. Johnson before
her formal dismissal by Lady Kingsborough. In September of 1788 she
stayed at Henley for a short time with Mrs. Bishop; and it was doubtless
this visit that caused Margaret's unhappiness and hence her mother's
indignation. At Henley Mary enjoyed a short interval of rest. The quiet
of the place and temporary idleness were the best of tonics for her
disordered nerves, and an excellent preparation for her new labors. That
she was at that time determined to give up teaching for literature, but
that she did not take her sister into her confidence, is shown by this
letter written to Mr. Johnson, containing a pleasant description of her

       HENLEY, Thursday, Sept. 13.

     MY DEAR SIR,--Since I saw you I have, literally speaking, _enjoyed_
     solitude. My sister could not accompany me in my rambles; I
     therefore wandered alone by the side of the Thames, and in the
     neighboring beautiful fields and pleasure grounds: the prospects
     were of such a placid kind, I _caught_ tranquillity while I
     surveyed them; my mind was _still_, though active. Were I to give
     you an account how I have spent my time, you would smile. I found
     an old French Bible here, and amused myself with comparing it with
     our English translation; then I would listen to the falling leaves,
     or observe the various tints the autumn gave to them. At other
     times, the singing of a robin or the noise of a water-mill engaged
     my attention; for I was at the same time, perhaps, discussing some
     knotty point, or straying from this _tiny_ world to new systems.
     After these excursions I returned to the family meals, told the
     children stories (they think me _vastly_ agreeable), and my sister
     was amused. Well, will you allow me to call this way of passing my
     days pleasant?

     I was just going to mend my pen; but I believe it will enable me to
     say all I have to add to this epistle. Have you yet heard of an
     habitation for me? I often think of my new plan of life; and lest
     my sister should try to prevail on me to alter it, I have avoided
     mentioning it to her. I am determined! Your sex generally laugh at
     female determinations; but let me tell you, I never yet resolved to
     do anything of consequence, that I did not adhere resolutely to it,
     till I had accomplished my purpose, improbable as it might have
     appeared to a more timid mind. In the course of near nine and
     twenty years I have gathered some experience, and felt many
     _severe_ disappointments; and what is the amount? I long for a
     little peace and _independence_! Every obligation we receive from
     our fellow-creatures is a new shackle, takes from our native
     freedom, and debases the mind, makes us mere earthworms. I am not
     fond of grovelling!

       I am, Sir, yours, etc.,

When she parted from Lady Kingsborough, and the time arrived for
beginning her new life, she thought it best to communicate her prospects
to Everina; but she begged the latter not to mention them to any one
else. She seems for some time to have wished that her family at least
should know nothing of her whereabouts or her occupations.

She wrote from London on the 7th of November to Everina,--

     I am, my dear girl, once more thrown on the world. I _have_ left
     Lord K.'s, and they return next week to Mitchelstown. I long since
     imagined that my departure would be sudden. I have not _seen_ Mrs.
     Burgh, but I have informed her of this circumstance, and at the
     same time mentioned to her, that I was determined not to see any of
     my friends till I am in a way to earn my own subsistence. And to
     this determination I _will_ adhere. You can conceive how
     disagreeable pity and advice would be at this juncture. I have two
     other cogent reasons. Before I go on will you pause, and if, after
     deliberating, you will promise not to mention to any one what you
     know of my designs, though you may think my requesting you to
     conceal them unreasonable, I will trust to your honor, and proceed.
     Mr. Johnson, whose uncommon kindness, I believe, has saved me from
     despair and vexation I shrink back from, and fear to encounter,
     assures me that if I exert my talents in writing, I may support
     myself in a comfortable way. I am then going to be the first of a
     new genus. I tremble at the attempt; yet if I fail _I_ only suffer;
     and should I succeed, my dear girls will ever in sickness have a
     home and a refuge, where for a few months in the year they may
     forget the cares that disturb the rest. I shall strain every nerve
     to obtain a situation for Eliza nearer town: in short, I am once
     more involved in schemes. Heaven only knows whether they will
     answer! Yet while they are pursued life slips away. I would not on
     any account inform my father or Edward of my designs. You and Eliza
     are the only part of the family I am interested about; I wish to be
     a mother to you both. My undertaking would subject me to ridicule
     and an inundation of friendly advice to which I cannot listen; I
     must be independent. I wish to introduce you to Mr. Johnson. You
     would respect him; and his sensible conversation would soon wear
     away the impression that a formality, or rather stiffness of
     manners, first makes to his disadvantage. I am sure you would love
     him, did you know with what tenderness and humanity he has behaved
     to me....

     I cannot write more explicitly. I have indeed been very much
     harassed. But Providence has been very kind to me, and when I
     reflect on past mercies, I am not without hope with respect to the
     future; and freedom, even uncertain freedom, is dear.... This
     project has long floated in my mind. You know I am not born to
     tread in the beaten track; the peculiar bent of my nature pushes me
     on. Adieu; believe me ever your sincere friend and affectionate


     Seas will not now divide us, nor years elapse before we see each

Thus, hopeful for herself and her sisters, she started out upon a new
road, which, smoother than any she had yet trodden, was not without its
many thorns and pitfalls. For a little while she stayed with Mr. Johnson,
whose house was then, as ever, open to her. But as soon as possible she
moved to lodgings he found for her in George Street, in the neighborhood
of Blackfriars' Bridge. Here she was near him, and this was an important
consideration, as the work he proposed to give her necessitated frequent
intercourse between them, and it was also an advantage for her to be
within reasonable distance of the only friend she possessed in London.

Mr. Johnson made her his "reader;" that is to say, he gave her the
manuscripts sent to him to read and criticise; he also required that she
should translate for him foreign works, for which there was then a great
demand, and that she should contribute to the "Analytical Review," which
had just been established. Her position was a good one. It is true it
left her little time for original work, and Godwin thought that it
contracted rather than enlarged her genius for the time being. But it
gave her a certain valuable experience and much practice which she would
not otherwise have obtained, and it insured her steady employment. She
was to the publisher what a staff contributor is to a newspaper. Whenever
anything was to be done, she was called upon to do it. Therefore, there
was no danger of her dying of starvation in a garret, like Chatterton, or
of her offering her manuscripts to one unwilling bookseller after
another, as happened to Carlyle.

She did not disappoint Mr. Johnson's expectations. She worked well and
diligently, being thoroughly conscientious in whatever she did. The
office of "reader" is no mere sinecure; it requires a keen critical
sense, an impartial mind, and not a little moral courage. The first of
these qualifications Mary possessed naturally, and her honesty enabled
her to cultivate the two last. She was as fearless in her criticisms as
she was just; she praised and found fault with equal temerity. This
disagreeable duty was the indirect cause of the happiest event of her
life. The circumstance in question belongs to a later date, but it may
more appropriately be mentioned here in connection with this branch of
her work. On one occasion she had to read a volume of Essays written by
Miss Hayes. The preface displeased her, and this she told the author,
stating her reasons with unhesitating frankness. Miss Hayes was a woman
capable of appreciating such candor of speech; and the business
transaction led to a sincere and lasting friendship. Miss Hayes was the
mutual friend who succeeded in producing a better feeling between Godwin
and Mary, who, as the sequel will show, were not very friendly when they
first met. This fact adds a personal interest to Mary's letter. She

     "I yesterday mentioned to Mr. Johnson your request, and he
     assented, desiring that the titlepage might be sent to him. I
     therefore can say nothing more, for trifles of this kind I have
     always left to him to settle; and you must be aware, madam, that
     the _honor_ of publishing, the phrase on which you have laid a
     stress, is the cant of both trade and sex; for if really equality
     should ever take place in society, the man who is employed and
     gives a just equivalent for the money he receives will not behave
     with the servile obsequiousness of a servant.

     "I am now going to treat you with still greater frankness. I do not
     approve of your preface, and I will tell you why: if your work
     should deserve attention, it is a blur on the very face of it.
     Disadvantages of education, etc., ought, in my opinion, never to be
     pleaded with the public in excuse for defects of any importance,
     because if the writer has not sufficient strength of mind to
     overcome the common difficulties that lie in his way, nature seems
     to command him, with a very audible voice, to leave the task of
     instructing others to those who can. This kind of vain humility has
     ever disgusted me; and I should say to an author, who humbly sued
     for forbearance, If you have not a tolerably good opinion of your
     own production, why intrude it on the public? We have plenty of bad
     books already, that have just gasped for breath and died. The last
     paragraph I particularly object to, it is so full of vanity. Your
     male friends will still treat you like a woman; and many a man, for
     instance Dr. Johnson, Lord Littleton, and even Dr. Priestley have
     insensibly been led to utter warm eulogiums in private that they
     would be sorry openly to avow without some cooling explanatory ifs.
     An author, especially a woman, should be cautious, lest she too
     hastily swallows the crude praises which partial friend and polite
     acquaintance bestow thoughtlessly when the supplicating eye looks
     for them. In short, it requires great resolution to try rather to
     be useful than to please. With this remark in your head, I must beg
     you to pardon my freedom whilst you consider the purport of what I
     am going to add,--rest on yourself. If your essays have merit,
     they will stand alone; if not, the _shouldering up_ of Dr. this or
     that will not long keep them from falling to the ground. The vulgar
     have a pertinent proverb, 'Too many cooks spoil the broth;' and let
     me remind you that when weakness claims indulgence, it seems to
     justify the despotism of strength. Indeed, the preface, and even
     your pamphlet, is too full of yourself. Inquiries ought to be made
     before they are answered; and till a work strongly interests the
     public, true modesty should keep the author in the background, for
     it is only about the character and life of a _good_ author that
     curiosity is active. A blossom is but a blossom."

It is a pity that most of Mary's contributions to the "Analytical
Review," being unsigned, cannot be credited to her. She wrote for it many
reviews and similar articles, and they probably were characterized by her
uncompromising honesty and straightforwardness of speech. "If you do not
like the manner in which I reviewed Dr. J----'s S---- on his wife," she
wrote in a note to Mr. Johnson, "be it known unto you, I _will_ not do it
any other way. I felt some pleasure in paying a just tribute of respect
to the memory of a man, who, spite of all his faults, I have an affection
for." From this it appears, that to tell the truth in these matters was
not always an uncongenial duty.

She was principally occupied in translating. Following Mr. Johnson's
advice, she had while in Ireland perfected her French. She was tolerably
familiar with Italian; and she now devoted all her spare minutes, and
these could not have been many, to mastering German. Her energy was
unflagging, and her determination to succeed in the calling she had
chosen, indomitable. By studying she was laying up the only capital she
knew how to accumulate, and she feared her future loss should she not
make use of present opportunities. She wrote to Mr. Johnson, who was
materially interested in her progress,--

     I really want a German grammar, as I intend to attempt to learn
     that language, and I will tell you the reason why. While I live, I
     am persuaded, I must exert my understanding to procure an
     independence and render myself useful. To make the task easier, I
     ought to store my mind with knowledge. The seed-time is passing
     away. I see the necessity of laboring now, and of that necessity I
     do not complain; on the contrary, I am thankful that I have more
     than common incentives to pursue knowledge, and draw my pleasures
     from the employments that are within my reach. You perceive this is
     not a gloomy day. I feel at this moment particularly grateful to
     you. Without your humane and _delicate_ assistance, how many
     obstacles should I not have had to encounter! Too often should I
     have been out of patience with my fellow-creatures, whom I wish to
     love. Allow me to love you, my dear sir, and call friend a being I
     respect. Adieu.

       MARY W.

She had indeed reason to be grateful to Mr. Johnson, and she expressed
her gratitude in a more practical way than by protestations. The German
grammar was not wasted. Before long Mary undertook for practice to
translate Salzmann's "Elements of Morality," and her exercise proved so
masterly that she, with a few corrections and additions, published it.
This gave rise to a correspondence between the author and herself; and
after several years the former returned the compliment by translating the
"Rights of Women" into German. Some idea will be given of her industry
when it is stated that during the five years of her London life, she, in
addition to the work already mentioned, rewrote a translation from the
Dutch of "Young Grandison;" translated from the French "Young Robinson,"
Necker on "Religious Opinions," and Lavater's "Physiognomy;" wrote a
volume of "Original Stories from Real Life for Children," and compiled a
"Female Reader." As these works were undertaken for money rather than for
fame, she did not through them exert any personal influence on
contemporary thought, or leave any impression on posterity.

She never degenerated, however, into a mere hack writer, nor did she
accept the literary tasks which came in her way, unless she felt able to
accomplish them. She was too conscientious to fall into a fault
unfortunately common among men and women in a similar position. She did
not shrink from any work, if she knew she was capable of doing it
justice. When it was beyond her powers, she frankly admitted this to be
the case. Thus, she once wrote to Mr. Johnson:--

     "I return you the Italian manuscript, but do not hastily imagine
     that I am indolent. I would not spare any labor to do my duty; that
     single thought would solace me more than any pleasures the senses
     could enjoy. I find I could not translate the manuscript well. If
     it were not a manuscript I should not be so easily intimidated; but
     the hand, and errors in orthography or abbreviations, are a
     stumbling-block at the first setting out. I cannot bear to do
     anything I cannot do well; and I should lose time in the vain

When she settled in London, she was in no humor for social pleasures. Her
sole ambition was to be useful, and she worked incessantly. She at first
hid herself from almost everybody. When she expected her sisters to stay
with her, she begged them beforehand, "If you pay any visits, you will
comply with my whim and not mention my place of abode or mode of life."
She lived in very simple fashion; her rooms were furnished with the
merest necessities. Another warning she had to give Everina and Mrs.
Bishop was, "I have a room, but not furniture. J. offered you both a bed
in his house, but that would not be pleasant. I believe I must try to
purchase a bed, which I shall reserve for my poor girls while I have a
house." It has been recorded that Talleyrand visited her in her lodgings
on George Street, and that while the two discussed social and political
problems, they drank their tea and then their wine from tea-cups,
wine-glasses being an elegance beyond Mary's means. Her dress was as
plain as her furniture. Her gowns were mean in material and often shabby,
and her hair hung loosely on her shoulders, instead of being twisted and
looped as was then fashionable. Knowles, in his "Life of Fuseli," finds
fault with her on this account. She was not, however, a _philosophical
sloven_, with _romantic_ ideas of benevolence, as he intimates. Either he
or Fuseli strangely misjudged her. The reason she paid so little heed to
the luxuries and frivolities which custom then exacted, was because other
more pressing demands were made upon her limited income. Then, as usual,
she was troubled by the wretched complications and misfortunes of her
family. The entire care and responsibility fell upon her shoulders. None
of the other members seemed to consider that she was as destitute as they
were,--that what she _did_ was literally her one source of revenue.
Assistance would have been as welcome to her as it was to them. But they
accepted what she had to give, and were never deterred by reflecting upon
the difficulty with which she responded to their needs. This is always
the way. The strong are made to bear the burdens of the weak.

The amount of practical help she gave them is almost incredible. Eliza
and Everina had, when the school at Newington Green failed, become
governesses, but their education had been so sadly neglected that they
were not competent for their work. Mary, knowing this, sent Everina to
France, that she might study to be a good French teacher. The tide of
emigration caused by the Revolution had only just begun, and French
governesses and tutors were not the drug on the market they became later.
Everina remained two years in France at her eldest sister's expense. Mary
found a place for Eliza, first as parlor boarder, and then as assistant,
in an excellent school near London. For most of the time, however, both
sisters were birds of passage. Everina was for a while at Putney, and
then in Ireland, where she probably learned for herself the discomforts
which Mary had once endured. Eliza was now at Market Harborough and
Henley, and again at Putney, and finally she obtained a situation in
Pembrokeshire, Wales, which she retained longer than any she had hitherto
held. During these years there were occasional intermissions when both
sisters were out of work, and there were holiday seasons to be provided
for. To their father's house it was still impossible for them to go. Its
wretchedness was so great, it could no longer be called a home. Eliza,
soon to see it, found it unbearable. Edward, it appears, was willing to
give shelter to Everina; but this brother, of whom less mention is made
in the sisters' letters, was never a favorite, and residence with him was
an evil to be avoided. The one place, therefore, where they were sure of
a warm welcome was the humble lodging near Blackfriars' Bridge. Mary
fulfilled her promise of being a mother to them both. She stinted herself
that she might make their lot more endurable.

When Eliza went to begin her Welsh engagement at Upton Castle, she spent
a night on the way with her father. Her report of this visit opened a new
channel for Mary's benevolence. Mr. Wollstonecraft was then living at
Laugharne, where he had taken his family many years before, and where his
daughters had made several very good friends. But Eliza, as she lamented
to Everina, went sadly from one old beloved haunt to another, without
meeting an eye which glistened at seeing her. Old acquaintances were
dead, or had sought a home elsewhere. The few who were left would not,
probably because of the father's disgrace, come to see her. The
step-mother, the second Mrs. Wollstonecraft, was helpful and economical;
but her thrift availed little against the drunken follies of her husband.
The latter had but just recovered from an illness. He was worn to a
skeleton, he coughed and groaned all night in a way to make the
listener's blood run cold, and he could not walk ten yards without
pausing to pant for breath. His poverty was so abject that his clothes
were barely decent, and his habits so low that he was indifferent to
personal cleanliness. For days and weeks after she had seen him, Eliza
was haunted by the memory of his unkempt hair and beard, his red face
and his beggarly shabbiness. Poor unfortunate Charles, the last child
left at home, was half-naked, and his time was spent in quarrelling with
his father. Eliza, who knew how to be independent, was irritated by her
brother's idleness. "I am very cool to Charles, and have said all I can
to rouse him," she wrote to Everina; but then immediately she added,
forced to do him justice, "But where can he go in his present plight?" It
scarcely seems possible that such misery should have befallen a
gentleman's family. Mr. Wollstonecraft's one cry, through it all, was for
money. He threatened to go to London in his rags, and compel the obdurate
Edward to comply with his demands. When Eliza told him of the sacrifices
Mary made in order to help him, he only flew into a rage.

It was not long before Mary had brought Charles to London. The first
thing to be done for him was much what Mr. Dick had advised in the case
of ragged David Copperfield, and her initiatory act in his behalf was to
clothe him. She took him to her house, where he lived, if not elegantly
and extravagantly, at least decently, a new experience for the poor lad.
She then had him articled to Edward, the attorney; but this experiment,
as might have been expected, proved a failure. Mary next consulted with
Mr. Barlow about the chances of settling him advantageously on a farm in
America; and to prepare him for this life, which seemed full of promise,
she sent him to serve a sort of apprenticeship with an English farmer.
About this time James, the second son, who had been at sea, came home,
and for him also Mary found room in her lodgings until, through her
influence, he went to Woolwich, where for a few months he was under the
instruction of Mr. Bonnycastle, the mathematician, as a preparation to
enter the Royal Navy. He eventually went on Lord Hood's fleet as a
midshipman, and was then promoted to the rank of lieutenant, after which
he appears to have been able to shift for himself.

Mary, as if this were not enough, also undertook the care of her father's
estate, or rather of the little left of it. Mr. Wollstonecraft had long
since been incapable of managing his own affairs, and had intrusted them
to some relations, with whose management Mary was not satisfied. She
consequently took matters into her own hands, though she could ill afford
to spare the time for this new duty. She did all that was possible to
disembarrass the estate so that it might produce sufficient for her
father's maintenance. She was ably assisted by Mr. Johnson. "During a
part of this period," he wrote of her residence in George Street, "which
certainly was the most active part of her life, she had the care of her
father's estate, which was attended with no little trouble to both of us.
She could not," he adds, "during this time, I think, expend less than
£200 on her brothers and sisters." Their combined efforts were in vain.
Mr. Wollstonecraft had succeeded too well in ruining himself; and for the
remainder of her life all Mary could do for him was to help him with her
money. Godwin says that, in addition to these already burdensome duties,
she took charge, in her own house, of a little girl of seven years of
age, a relation of Mr. Skeys.

She struggled bravely, but there were times when it required superhuman
efforts to persevere. She was subject to attacks of depression which
usually resulted in physical illness. She gives a graphic description of
the mental and bodily weakness against which she had to fight, in a note
written at this period and addressed to Mr. Johnson:--

     "I am a mere animal, and instinctive emotions too often silence the
     suggestions of reason. Your note, I can scarcely tell why, hurt me,
     and produced a kind of winterly smile, which diffuses a beam of
     despondent tranquillity over the features. I have been very ill;
     Heaven knows it was more than fancy. After some sleepless,
     wearisome nights, towards the morning I have grown delirious. Last
     Thursday, in particular, I imagined ---- was thrown into his great
     distress by his folly; and I, unable to assist him, was in an
     agony. My nerves were in such a painful state of irritation I
     suffered more than I can express. Society was necessary, and might
     have diverted me till I gained more strength; but I blush when I
     recollect how often I have teased you with childish complaints and
     the reveries of a disordered imagination. I even _imagined_ that I
     intruded on you, because you never called on me though you
     perceived that I was not well. I have nourished a sickly kind of
     delicacy, which gave me as many unnecessary pangs. I acknowledge
     that life is but a jest, and often a frightful dream, yet catch
     myself every day searching for something serious, and feel real
     misery from the disappointment. I am a strange compound of weakness
     and resolution. However, if I must suffer, I will endeavor to
     suffer in silence. There is certainly a great defect in my mind; my
     wayward heart creates its own misery. Why I am made thus, I cannot
     tell; and, till I can form some idea of the whole of my existence,
     I must be content to weep and dance like a child,--long for a toy,
     and be tired of it as soon as I get it.

     "We must each of us wear a fool's cap; but mine, alas! has lost its
     bells and grown so heavy I find it intolerably troublesome.
     Good-night! I have been pursuing a number of strange thoughts since
     I began to write, and have actually both laughed and wept
     immoderately. Surely I am a fool."

In these dark days it was always to Mr. Johnson she turned for sympathy
and advice. She had never been on very confidential terms with either of
her sisters, and her friendship with George Blood had grown cooler. Their
paths in life had so widely diverged that this was unavoidable. The
following extract from a letter Mary wrote to him in the winter of 1791
shows that the change in their intimacy had not been caused by
ill-feeling on either side. He apparently had, through her, renewed his
offer of marriage to Everina, as he was now able to support a wife:--

     "... Now, my dear George, let me more particularly allude to your
     own affairs. I ought to have done so sooner, but there was an
     awkwardness in the business that made me shrink back. We have all,
     my good friend, a sisterly affection for you; and this very morning
     Everina declared to me that she had more affection for you than for
     either of her brothers; but, accustomed to view you in that light,
     she cannot view you in any other. Let us then be on the old
     footing; love us as we love you, but give your heart to some worthy
     girl, and do not cherish an affection which may interfere with your
     prospects when there is no reason to suppose that it will ever be
     returned. Everina does not seem to think of marriage. She has no
     particular attachment; yet she was anxious when I spoke explicitly
     to her, to speak to you in the same terms, that she might
     correspond with you as she has ever done, with sisterly freedom and

But good friends as they continued to be, he was far away in Dublin, with
different interests; and Mary craved immediate and comprehensive
sympathy. Mr. Johnson was ever ready to administer to her spiritual
wants; he was a friend in very truth. He evidently understood her nature
and knew how best to deal with her when she was in these moods. "During
her stay in George Street," he says in a note referring to her, "she
spent many of her afternoons and most of her evenings with me. She was
incapable of disguise. Whatever was the state of her mind, it appeared
when she entered, and the tone of conversation might easily be guessed.
When harassed, which was very often the case, she was relieved by
unbosoming herself, and generally returned home calm, frequently in
spirits." Sometimes her mental condition threatened to interfere
seriously with her work, and then again Mr. Johnson knew how to stimulate
and encourage her. When she was writing her answer to Burke's
"Reflections on the French Revolution," and when the first half of her
paper had been sent to the printer, her interest in her subject and her
power of writing suddenly deserted her. It was important to publish all
that was written in the controversy while public attention was still
directed to it. And yet, though Mary knew this full well, it was simply
impossible for her to finish what she had eagerly begun. In this frame of
mind she called upon Mr. Johnson and told him her troubles. Instead of
finding fault with her, he was sympathetic and bade her not to worry, for
if she could not continue her pamphlet he would throw aside the printed
sheets. This roused her pride. It was a far better stimulus than abuse
would have been, and it sent her home to write the second half
immediately. That she at times reproached herself for taking undue
advantage of Mr. Johnson's kindness appears from the following apologetic
little note:--

     You made me very low-spirited last night by your manner of talking.
     You are my only friend, the only person I am _intimate_ with. I
     never had a father or a brother; you have been both to me ever
     since I knew you, yet I have sometimes been very petulant. I have
     been thinking of those instances of ill-humor and quickness, and
     they appear like crimes.

       Yours sincerely,

The dry morsel and quietness which were now her portion were infinitely
better than the house full of strife which she had just left. She was
happier than she had ever been before, but she was only happy by
comparison. Solitude was preferable to the society of Lady Kingsborough
and her friends, but for any one of Mary's temperament it could not be
esteemed as a good in itself. Her unnatural isolation fortunately did not
last very long. Her friendship with Mr. Johnson was sufficient in itself
to break through her barrier of reserve. She was constantly at his house,
and it was one of the gayest and most sociable in London. It was the
rendezvous of the _literati_ of the day. Persons of note, foreigners as
well as Englishmen, frequented it. There one could meet Fuseli,
impetuous, impatient, and overflowing with conversation; Paine, somewhat
hard to draw out of his shell; Bonnycastle, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr.
George Anderson, Dr. Geddes, and a host of other prominent artists,
scientists, and literary men. Their meetings were informal. They
gathered together to talk about what interested them, and not to simper
and smirk, and give utterance to platitudes and affectations, as was the
case with the society to which Mary had lately been introduced. The
people with whom she now became acquainted were too earnest to lay undue
stress on what Herbert Spencer calls the _non-essentials_ of social
intercourse. Sincerity was more valued by them than standard forms of
politeness. When Dr. Geddes was indignant with Fuseli, he did not
disguise his feelings, but in the face of the assembled company rushed
out of the room to walk two or three times around Saint Paul's
Churchyard, and then, when his rage had diminished, to return and resume
the argument. This indifference to conventionalities, which would have
been held by the polite world to be a fault, must have seemed to Mary,
after her late experience, an incomparable virtue. It is no wonder that
Mrs. Barbauld found the evenings she spent with her publisher lively. "We
protracted them sometimes till ----" she wrote to her brother in the
course of one of her visits to London. "But I am not telling tales. Ask
---- at what time we used to separate." Mary was also a welcome guest at
Mrs. Trimmer's house, which, like that of Mr. Johnson, was a centre of
attraction for clever people. This Mrs. Trimmer had acquired some little
literary reputation, and had secured the patronage of the royal family
and the clergy. She and Mary differed greatly, both in character and
creed, but they became very good friends. "I spent a day at Mrs.
Trimmer's, and found her a truly respectable woman," was the verdict the
latter sent to Everina; nor had she ever reason to alter it. Her intimacy
with Miss Hayes also brought her into contact with many of the same

As soon as she began to be known in London, she was admired. She was
young,--being only twenty-nine when she came there to live--and she was
handsome. Her face was very striking. She had a profusion of auburn hair;
her eyes were brown and beautiful, despite a slight droop in one of them;
and her complexion, as is usually the case in connection with her
Titianesque coloring of hair and eyes, was rich and clear. The strength
and unutterable sadness of her expression combined with her other charms
to make her face one which a stranger would turn to look at a second
time. She possessed to a rare degree the power of attracting people. Few
could resist the influence of her personality. Added to this she talked
cleverly, and even brilliantly. The tone of her conversation was at times
acrid and gloomy. Long years of toil in a hard, unjust world had borne
the fruit of pessimism. She was too apt to overlook the bright for the
dark side of a picture. But this was a fault which was amply
counterbalanced by her talents. For the first time she made friends who
were competent to justly measure her merits. She was recognized to be a
woman of more than ordinary talents, and she was treated accordingly.
Mean clothes and shabby houses were no drawbacks to clever women in those
days. Mrs. Inchbald, in gowns "always becoming, and very seldom worth so
much as eight-pence," as one of her admirers described them, was
surrounded as soon as she entered a crowded room, even when powdered and
elegantly attired ladies of fashion were deserted. And Mary, though she
had not glasses out of which to drink her wine, and though her coiffure
was unfashionable, became a person of consequence in literary circles.

Under the influence of congenial social surroundings, she gave up her
habits of retirement. She began to find enjoyment in society, and her
interest in life revived. She could even be gay, nor was there so much
sorrow in her laughter as there had been of yore. Among the most intimate
of her new acquaintances were Mr. and Mrs. Fuseli; and the account has
been preserved of at least one pleasure party to which she accompanied
them. This was a masked ball, and young Lavater, then in England, was
with them. Masquerades were then at the height of popularity. All sorts
and conditions of men went to them. Beautiful Amelia Opie, in her poorest
days, spent five pounds to gain admittance to one given to the Russian
ambassadors. Mrs. Inchbald, when well advanced in years, could enter so
thoroughly into the spirit of another as to beg a friend to lend her a
faded blue silk handkerchief or sash, that she might represent her real
character of a _passée_ blue-stocking. Mary's gayety on the present
occasion was less artificial than it had been at the Dublin mask. But
Fuseli's hot temper and fondness for a joke brought their amusement to a
sudden end. They were watching the masks, when one among the latter,
dressed as a devil, danced up to them, and, with howls and many mad
pranks, made merry at their expense. Fuseli, when he found he could not
rid himself of the tormentor, called out half angrily, half facetiously,
"Go to Hell!" The devil proved to be of the dull species, and instead of
answering with a lively jest, broke out into a torrent of hot abuse, and
refused to be appeased. Fuseli, wishing to avoid a scene, literally
turned and fled, leaving Mary and the others to save themselves as best
they could.

At this period a man, whose name, luckily for himself, is now forgotten,
wished to make Mary his wife. Her treatment of him was characteristic. He
could not have known her very well, or else he would not have been so
foolish as to represent his financial prosperity as an argument in his
favor. For a woman to sell herself for money, even when the bargain was
sanctioned by the marriage ceremony, was, in her opinion, the
unpardonable sin. Therefore, what he probably intended as an honor, she
received as an insult. She declared that it must henceforward end her
acquaintance not only with him, but with the third person through whom
the offer was sent, and to whom Mary gave her answer. Her letters in
connection with this subject are among the most interesting in her
correspondence. They bear witness to the sanctity she attached to the
union of man and wife. Her views in this relation cannot be too
prominently brought forward, since, by manifesting the purity of her
principles, light is thrown on her subsequent conduct. In her first burst
of wrath she unbosomed herself to her ever-sympathetic confidant, Mr.

     "Mr. ---- called on me just now. Pray did you know his motive for
     calling? I think him impertinently officious. He had left the house
     before it had occurred to me in the strong light it does now, or I
     should have told him so. My poverty makes me proud. I will not be
     insulted by a superficial puppy. His intimacy with Miss ---- gave
     him a privilege which he should not have assumed with me. A
     proposal might be made to his cousin, a milliner's girl, which
     should not have been mentioned to me. Pray tell him that I am
     offended, and do not wish to see him again. When I meet him at your
     house, I shall leave the room, since I cannot pull him by the nose.
     I can force my spirit to leave my body, but it shall never bend to
     support that body. God of heaven, save thy child from this living
     death! I scarcely know what I write. My hand trembles; I am very
     sick,--sick at heart."

Then she wrote to the man who had undertaken in an evil moment to deliver
the would-be lover's message:

     SIR,--When you left me this morning, and I reflected a moment, your
     _officious_ message, which at first appeared to me a joke, looked
     so very like an insult, I cannot forget it. To prevent, then, the
     necessity of forcing a smile when I chance to meet you, I take the
     earliest opportunity of informing you of my sentiments.


This brief note seems to have called forth an answer, for Mary wrote
again, and this time more fully and explicitly:--

     Sir,--It is inexpressibly disagreeable to me to be obliged to enter
     again on a subject that has already raised a tumult of _indignant_
     emotions in my bosom, which I was laboring to suppress when I
     received your letter. I shall now _condescend_ to answer your
     epistle; but let me first tell you that, in my _unprotected_
     situation, I make a point of never forgiving a _deliberate
     insult_,--and in that light I consider your late officious conduct.
     It is not according to my nature to mince matters. I will tell you
     in plain terms what I think. I have ever considered you in the
     light of a _civil_ acquaintance,--on the word friend I lay a
     peculiar emphasis,--and, as a mere acquaintance, you were rude and
     _cruel_ to step forward to insult a woman whose conduct and
     misfortunes demand respect. If my friend Mr. Johnson had made the
     proposal, I should have been severely hurt, have thought him unkind
     and unfeeling, but not _impertinent_. The privilege of intimacy you
     had no claim to, and should have referred the man to myself, if you
     had not sufficient discernment to quash it at once. I am, sir, poor
     and destitute; yet I have a spirit that will never bend, or take
     indirect methods to obtain the consequences I despise; nay, if to
     support life it was necessary to act contrary to my principles, the
     struggle would soon be over. I can bear anything but my own

     In a few words, what I call an insult is the bare supposition that
     I could for a moment think of _prostituting_ my person for a
     maintenance; for in that point of view does such a marriage appear
     to me, who consider right and wrong in the abstract, and never by
     words and local opinions shield myself from the reproaches of my
     own heart and understanding.

     It is needless to say more; only you must excuse me when I add that
     I wish never to see, but as a perfect stranger, a person who could
     so grossly mistake my character. An apology is not necessary, if
     you were inclined to make one, nor any further expostulations. I
     again repeat, I cannot overlook an affront; few indeed have
     sufficient delicacy to respect poverty, even when it gives lustre
     to a character; and I tell you, sir, I am _poor_, yet can live
     without your benevolent exertions.


Her struggles with work wearied her less than her struggles with the
follies of men, of which the foregoing is an example. Indeed, while she
was eminently fitted to enjoy society, she was also peculiarly
susceptible to the many slings and arrows from which those who live in
the world cannot escape. The very tenderness of her feelings for
humanity, which was a blessing in one way, was almost a curse in
another. For, just as the conferring of a benefit on one in need gave her
intense pleasure, so, if she was the chance cause of pain to friend or
foe, she suffered acutely. Intentionally she could not have injured any
man. But often a word or action, said or done in good faith, will involve
others in serious difficulties. The misery she endured under such
circumstances was greater than that aroused by her own individual
troubles. The thought that she had added to a fellow-sufferer's
life-burden cut her to the quick, and she was unsparing in her
self-reproaches. She then reached the very acme of mental torture, as is
seen by this letter to Mr. Johnson:--

     "I am sick with vexation, and wish I could knock my foolish head
     against the wall, that bodily pain might make me feel less anguish
     from self-reproach! To say the truth, I was never more displeased
     with myself, and I will tell you the cause. You may recollect that
     I did not mention to you the circumstance of ---- having a fortune
     left to him; nor did a hint of it drop from me when I conversed
     with my sister, because I knew he had a sufficient motive for
     concealing it. Last Sunday, when his character was aspersed, as I
     thought unjustly, in the heat of vindication I informed ---- that
     he was now independent; but, at the same time, desired him not to
     repeat my information to B----; yet last Tuesday he told him all,
     and the boy at B----'s gave Mrs. ---- an account of it. As Mr.
     ---- knew he had only made a confidant of me (I blush to think of
     it!) he guessed the channel of intelligence, and this morning came,
     not to reproach me,--I wish he had,--but to point out the injury I
     have done him. Let what will be the consequence, I will reimburse
     him, if I deny myself the necessaries of life, and even then my
     folly will sting me. Perhaps you can scarcely conceive the misery I
     at this moment endure. That I, whose power of doing good is so
     limited, should do harm, galls my very soul. ---- may laugh at
     these qualms, but, supposing Mr. ---- to be unworthy, I am not the
     less to blame. Surely it is hell to despise one's self! I did not
     want this additional vexation. At this time I have many that hang
     heavily on my spirits. I shall not call on you this month, nor stir
     out. My stomach has been so suddenly and violently affected, I am
     unable to lean over the desk."

The sequel of the affair is not known, but this letter, because it is so
characteristic, is interesting.

The advantages social intercourse procured for her were, however, more
than sufficient compensation for the heart-beats it caused her. If there
is nothing so deteriorating as association with one's intellectual
inferiors, there is, on the other hand, nothing so improving as the
society of one's equals or superiors. Stimulated into mental activity by
her associates in the world in which she now moved, Mary's genius
expanded, and ideas but half formed developed into fixed principles. As
Swinburne says of Blake, she was born into the church of rebels. Her
present experience was her baptism. The times were exciting. The effect
of the work of Voltaire and the French philosophers was social upheaval
in France. The rebellion of the colonies and the agitation for reform at
home had encouraged the liberal party into new action. Men had fully
awakened to a realization of individual rights, and in their first
excitement could think and talk of nothing else. The interest then taken
in politics was general and wide-spread to a degree now unknown. Every
one, advocates and opponents alike, discussed the great social problems
of the day.

As a rule, the most regular frequenters of Mr. Johnson's house, and the
leaders of conversation during his evenings, were Reformers. Men like
Paine and Fuseli and Dr. Priestley were, each in his own fashion, seeking
to discover the true nature of human rights. As the Reformation in the
sixteenth century had aimed at freeing the religion of Christ from the
abuses and errors of centuries, and thus restoring it to its original
purity, so the political movement of the latter half of the eighteenth
century had for object the destruction of arbitrary laws and the
re-establishment of government on primary principles. The French
Revolution and the American Rebellion were but means to the greater end.
Philosophers, who systematized the dissatisfaction which the people felt
without being able to trace it to its true source, preached the necessity
of distinguishing between right and wrong _per se_, and right and wrong
as defined by custom. This was the doctrine which Mary heard most
frequently discussed, and it was but the embodiment of the motives which
had invariably governed her actions from the time she had urged her
sister to leave her husband. She had never, even in her most religious
days, been orthodox in her beliefs, nor conservative in her conduct. As
she said in a letter just quoted, she considered right and wrong in the
abstract, and never shielded herself by words or local opinions.
Hitherto, owing chiefly to her circumstances, she had been content to
accept her theory as a guide for herself in her relations to the world
and her fellow-beings. But now that her scope of influence was extended,
she felt compelled to communicate to others her moral creed, which had
assumed definite shape.

Her first public profession of her political and social faith was her
answer to Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution," which had
summoned all the Liberals and Reformers in England to arms. Many came
forward boldly and refuted his arguments in print. Mary was among the
foremost, her pamphlet in reply to his being the first published. Later
authorities have given precedence to Dr. Priestley's, but this fact is
asserted by Godwin in his Memoirs, and he would hardly have made the
statement at a time when there were many living to deny it, had it not
been true. These answers naturally were received with abuse and sneers by
the Tories. Burke denounced his female opponents as "viragoes and English
_poissardes_;" and Horace Walpole wrote of them as "Amazonian allies,"
who "spit their rage at eighteen-pence a head, and will return to
Fleet-ditch, more fortunate in being forgotten than their predecessors,
immortalized in the 'Dunciad.'" Peter Burke, in his "Life of Burke," says
that the replies made by Dr. Price, Mrs. Macaulay, and Mary
Wollstonecraft were merely attempts and nothing more. Yet all three were
writers of too much force to be ignored. They were thrown into the shade
because Paine's "Rights of Man," written for the same purpose, was so
much more startling in its wholesale condemnation of government that the
principal attention of the public was drawn to it.

Mary's pamphlet, however, added considerably to her reputation,
especially among the Liberals. It was her first really important work.
Her success encouraged her greatly. It increased her confidence in her
powers and possibilities to influence the reading public. It therefore
proved an incentive to fresh exertions in the same field. Much as she was
interested in the rights of men, she was even more concerned with the
rights of women. The former had obtained many able defenders, but no one
had as yet thought of saying a word for the latter. Her own experience
had been so bitter that she realized the disadvantages of her sex as
others, whose path had been easier, never could. She saw that women were
hindered and hampered in a thousand and one ways by obstacles created not
by nature, but by man. And she also saw that long suffering had blinded
them to their, in her estimation, humiliating and too often painful
condition. A change for the better must originate with them, and yet how
was this possible, if they did not see their degradation?

    "Can the sower sow by night,
    Or the ploughman in darkness plough?"

Clearly, since she had found the light, it was her duty to illuminate
with it those who were groping in darkness. She could not with a word
revolutionize womankind, but she could at least be the herald to proclaim
the dawn of the day during which the good seed was to be sown. She had
discovered her life's mission, and, in her enthusiasm, she wrote the
"Vindication of the Rights of Women."




As has been stated, Mary Wollstonecraft began her literary career by
writing a small pamphlet on the subject of education. Its title, in full,
is "Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female
Conduct in the more Important Duties of Life." It is interesting as her
first work. Otherwise it is of no great value. Though Mr. Johnson saw in
it the marks of genius, there is really little originality in its
contents or striking merit in the method of treating them. The ideas it
sets forth, while eminently commendable, are remarkable only because it
was unusual in the eighteenth century for women, especially the young and
unmarried, to have any ideas to which to give expression.

The pamphlet consists of a number of short treatises, indicating certain
laws and principles which Mary thought needed to be more generally
understood and more firmly established. That a woman should not shirk the
functions, either physical or moral, of maternity; that artificial
manners and exterior accomplishments should not be cultivated in lieu of
practical knowledge and simplicity of conduct; that matrimony is to be
considered seriously and not entered into capriciously; that the
individual owes certain duties to humanity as well as to his or her own
family,--all these are truths which it is well to repeat frequently. But
if their repetition be not accompanied by arguments which throw new light
on ethical science, or else if it be not made with the vigor and power
born of a thorough knowledge of humanity and its wants and shortcomings,
it will not be remembered by posterity. The "Education of Daughters"
certainly bears no relation to such works as the "Imitation" on the one
hand, or the "Data of Ethics" on the other. It is not a book for all

However, much in it is significant to readers interested in the study of
Mary Wollstonecraft's life and character. Every sentence reveals the
earnestness of her nature. Many passages show that as early as 1787 she
had seriously considered the problems which, in 1791, she attempted to
solve. She was even then perplexed by the unfortunate situation of women
of the upper classes who, having received but the pretence of an
education, eventually become dependent on their own exertions. Her sad
experience probably led her to these thoughts. Reflection upon them made
her the champion of her sex. Already in this little pamphlet she declares
her belief that, by a rational training of their intellectual powers,
women can be prepared at one and the same time to meet any emergencies of
fortune and to fulfil the duties of wife and mother. She demonstrates
that good mental discipline, instead of interfering with feminine
occupations, increases a woman's fitness for them. Thus she writes:--

     "No employment of the mind is a sufficient excuse for neglecting
     domestic duties; and I cannot conceive that they are incompatible.
     A woman may fit herself to be the companion and friend of a man of
     sense, and yet know how to take care of his family."

The intense love of sincerity in conduct and belief which is a leading
characteristic in the "Rights of Women" is also manifested in these early
essays. Mary exclaims in one place,--

     "How many people are like whitened sepulchres, and careful only
     about appearances! Yet if we are too anxious to gain the
     approbation of the world, we must often forfeit our own."

And again she says, as if in warning:--

     "... Let the manners arise from the mind, and let there be no
     disguise for the genuine emotions of the heart.

     "Things merely ornamental are soon disregarded, and disregard can
     scarcely be borne when there is no internal support."

Another marked feature of the pamphlet is the extremely puritanical
tendency of its sentiments. It was written at the period when Mary was
sending sermon-like letters to George Blood, and breathes the same spirit
of stern adherence to religious principles, though not to special dogma.

But perhaps the most noteworthy passage which occurs in the treatise is
one on love, and in which, strangely enough, she establishes a belief
which she was destined some years later to confirm by her actions. When
the circumstances of her union with Godwin are remembered, her words seem

     "It is too universal a maxim with novelists," she says, "that love
     is felt but once; though it appears to me that the heart which is
     capable of receiving an impression at all, and can distinguish,
     will turn to a new object when the first is found unworthy. I am
     convinced it is practicable, when a respect for goodness has the
     first place in the mind, and notions of perfection are not affixed
     to constancy."

Though not very wonderful in itself, the "Education of Daughters" is, in
its choice of subject and the standards it upholds, a worthy prelude to
the riper work by which it was before very long followed.

The next work Mary published was a volume called "Original Stories from
Real Life; with Conversations calculated to regulate the Affections and
form the Mind to Truth and Goodness." This was written while her
experience as school-mistress and governess was still fresh in her
memory. As she explains in her Preface, her object was to make up in some
measure for the defective education or moral training which, as a rule,
children in those days received from their parents.

     "Good habits," she writes, "are infinitely preferable to the
     precepts of reason; but as this task requires more judgment than
     generally falls to the lot of parents, substitutes must be sought
     for, and medicines given, when regimen would have answered the
     purpose much better.

     "... To wish that parents would, themselves, mould the ductile
     passions is a chimerical wish, as the present generation have their
     own passions to combat with, and fastidious pleasures to pursue,
     neglecting those nature points out. We must then pour premature
     knowledge into the succeeding one; and, teaching virtue, explain
     the nature of vice."

In addressing a youthful audience, Mary was as deeply inspired by her
love of goodness _per se_, and her detestation of conventional
conceptions of virtue, as she was afterwards in appealing to older
readers. She represents, in her book, two little girls, aged respectively
twelve and fourteen, who have been sadly neglected during their early
years, but who, fortunately, have at this period fallen under the care of
a Mrs. Mason, who at once undertakes to form their character and train
their intellect. This good lady, in whose name Mary sermonizes, seizes
upon every event of the day to teach her charges a moral lesson. The
defects she attacks are those most common to childhood. Cruelty to
animals, peevishness, lying, greediness, indolence, procrastination, are
in turn censured, and their opposite virtues praised. Some of the
definitions of the qualities commended are excellent. For example, Mrs.
Mason says to the two children:--

     "Do you know the meaning of the word goodness? I see you are
     unwilling to answer. I will tell you. It is, first, to avoid
     hurting anything; and then to contrive to give as much pleasure as
     you can."

Again, she warns them thus:--

     "Remember that idleness must always be intolerable, as it is the
     most irksome consciousness of existence."

This latter definition is a little above the comprehension of children of
twelve and fourteen. But then Mary is careful to explain in the Preface
that she writes to assist teachers. She wishes to give them hints which
they must apply to the children under their care as they think best. The
religious tone of the "Stories" is even more pronounced than that of the
"Education of Daughters." The following is but one of many proofs of
Mary's honest endeavors to make children understand the importance of
religious devotion. In one of her conversational sermons Mrs. Mason says:

     "Recollect that from religion your chief comfort must spring, and
     never neglect the duty of prayer. Learn from experience the comfort
     that arises from making known your wants and sorrows to the wisest
     and best of Beings, in whose hands are the issues, not only of this
     life, but of that which is to come."

To strengthen the effect of Mrs. Mason's words, an example or story is in
every chapter added to her remarks. They are all appropriate, and many of
the tales are beautiful. As the book is so little known, one of these may
with advantage be given here. The story selected is that of Crazy Robin.
Mrs. Mason tells it to Mary and Caroline, the two little girls, to
explain to them how much wretchedness can be produced by unkindness to
men and beasts. It is interesting because it shows the quality of the
mental food which Mary thought best fitted for the capacity of children.
She was evidently an advocate for strong nourishment. Besides, the story,
despite some unpleasant defects of style, is very powerful. It is full of
dramatic force, and is related with great simplicity and pathos:--

     "In yonder cave lived a poor man, who generally went by the name of
     Crazy Robin. In his youth he was very industrious, and married my
     father's dairy-maid, a girl deserving of such a good husband. For
     some time they continued to live very comfortably; their daily
     labor procured their daily bread; but Robin, finding it was likely
     he should have a large family, borrowed a trifle to add to the
     small pittance they had saved in service, and took a little farm
     in a neighboring county. I was then a child.

     "Ten or twelve years after, I heard that a crazy man, who appeared
     very harmless, had by the side of the brook piled a great number of
     stones; he would wade into the river for them, followed by a cur
     dog, whom he would frequently call his Jacky, and even his Nancy;
     and then mumble to himself, 'Thou wilt not leave me. We will dwell
     with the owl in the ivy.' A number of owls had taken shelter in it.
     The stones he waded for he carried to the mouth of the hole, and
     only left just room enough to go in. Some of the neighbors at last
     recollected him; and I sent to inquire what misfortune had reduced
     him to such a deplorable state.

     "The information I received from different persons I will
     communicate to you in as few words as I can.

     "Several of his children died in their infancy; and, two years
     before he came to his native place, he had been overwhelmed by a
     torrent of misery. Through unavoidable misfortunes he was long in
     arrears to his landlord; who, seeing that he was an honest man, and
     endeavored to bring up his family, did not distress him; but when
     his wife was lying-in of her last child, the landlord died, and his
     heir sent and seized the stock for the rent; and the person he had
     borrowed some money of, exasperated to see all gone, arrested him,
     and he was hurried to jail. The poor woman, endeavoring to assist
     her family before she had gained sufficient strength, found herself
     very ill; and the illness, through neglect and the want of proper
     nourishment, turned to a putrid fever, which two of the children
     caught from her, and died with her. The two who were left, Jacky
     and Nancy, went to their father, and took with them a cur dog that
     had long shared their frugal meals.

     "The children begged in the day, and at night slept with their
     wretched father. Poverty and dirt soon robbed their cheeks of the
     roses which the country air made bloom with a peculiar freshness.
     Their blood had been tainted by the putrid complaint that destroyed
     their mother; in short, they caught the small-pox, and died. The
     poor father, who was now bereft of all his children, hung over
     their bed in speechless anguish; not a groan or a tear escaped from
     him while he stood, two or three hours, in the same attitude,
     looking at the dead bodies of his little darlings. The dog licked
     his hands, and strove to attract his attention; but for a while he
     seemed not to observe his caresses; when he did, he said
     mournfully, 'Thou wilt not leave me;' and then he began to laugh.
     The bodies were removed; and he remained in an unsettled state,
     often frantic; at length the frenzy subsided, and he grew
     melancholy and harmless. He was not then so closely watched; and
     one day he contrived to make his escape, the dog followed him, and
     came directly to his native village.

     "After I received this account, I determined he should live in the
     place he had chosen, undisturbed. I sent some conveniences, all of
     which he rejected except a mat, on which he sometimes slept; the
     dog always did. I tried to induce him to eat, but he constantly
     gave the dog whatever I sent him, and lived on haws and
     blackberries and every kind of trash. I used to call frequently on
     him; and he sometimes followed me to the house I now live in, and
     in winter he would come of his own accord, and take a crust of
     bread. He gathered water-cresses out of the pool, and would bring
     them to me, with nosegays of wild thyme, which he plucked from the
     sides of the mountain. I mentioned before, that the dog was a cur;
     it had the tricks of curs, and would run after horses' heels and
     bark. One day, when his master was gathering water-cresses, the dog
     ran after a young gentleman's horse, and made it start, and almost
     throw the rider. Though he knew it was the poor madman's dog, he
     levelled his gun at it, shot it, and instantly rode off. Robin came
     to him; he looked at his wounds, and, not sensible that he was
     dead, called him to follow him; but when he found that he could
     not, he took him to the pool, and washed off the blood before it
     began to clot, and then brought him home and laid him on the mat.

     "I observed that I had not seen him pacing up the hills, and sent
     to inquire about him. He was found sitting by the dog, and no
     entreaties could prevail on him to quit it, or receive any
     refreshment. I went to him myself, hoping, as I had always been a
     favorite, that I should be able to persuade him. When I came to
     him, I found the hand of death was upon him. He was still
     melancholy; but there was not such a mixture of wildness in it. I
     pressed him to take some food; but, instead of answering me, or
     turning away, he burst into tears, a thing I had never seen him do
     before, and, in inarticulate accents, he said, 'Will any one be
     kind to me? You will kill me! I saw not my wife die--no!--they
     dragged me from her, but I saw Jacky and Nancy die; and who pitied
     me, but my dog?' He turned his eyes to the body. I wept with him.
     He would then have taken some nourishment, but nature was
     exhausted, and he expired."

The book is, on the whole, well written, and was popular enough in its
day. The first edition, published in 1788, was followed by a second in
1791, and a third in 1796. To make it still more attractive, Mr. Johnson
engaged Blake, whom he was then befriending, to illustrate it. But
children of the present day object to the tales with a moral which were
the delight of the nursery in Mary's time. They have lost all faith in
the bad boy who invariably meets with the evil fate which is his due; and
they are sceptical as to the good little girl who always receives the
cakes and ale--metaphorically speaking--her virtues deserve. And so it
has come to pass that the "Original Stories" are remembered chiefly on
account of their illustrations.

The drawings contributed by Blake were more in number than were required,
and only six were printed. A copy of one of those rejected is given in
Gilchrist's Life of the artist. None of them rank with his best work.
"The designs," his biographer says, "can hardly be pronounced a
successful competition with Stothard, though traces of a higher feeling
are visible in the graceful female forms,--benevolent heroine, or
despairing, famishing peasant group. The artist evidently moves in
constraint, and the accessories of these domestic scenes are simply
generalized as if by a child: the result of an inobservant eye for such
things." But of those published there are two at least which, as Mr.
Kegan Paul has already pointed out, make a deep impression on all who see
them. One is the frontispiece, which illustrates this sentence of the
text: "Look what a fine morning it is. Insects, birds, and animals are
all enjoying existence." The posing of the three female figures standing
in reverential attitudes, and the creeping vine by the doorway, are
conceived and executed in Blake's true decorative spirit. The other
represents Crazy Robin by the bedside of his two dead children, the
faithful dog by his side. The grief, horror, and despair expressed in the
man's face cannot be surpassed, while the pathos and strength of the
scene are heightened by the simplicity of the drawing.

Of the several translations Mary made at this period, but the briefest
mention is necessary. It often happens that the book translated is in a
great degree indicative of the mental calibre of its translator. Thus it
is characteristic of Carlyle that he translated Goethe, of Swinburne that
he selected the verses of Villon or Théophile Gautier for the same
purpose. But Mary's case was entirely different. The choice of foreign
works rendered into English was not hers, but Mr. Johnson's. By adhering
to it she was simply fulfilling the contract she had entered into with
him. There were times when she had but a poor opinion of the books he put
into her hands. Thus of one of the principal of these, Necker on the
"Importance of Religion," she says in her "French Revolution:"--

     "Not content with the fame he [Necker] acquired by writing on a
     subject which his turn of mind and profession enabled him to
     comprehend, he wished to obtain a higher degree of celebrity by
     forming into a large book various metaphysical shreds of arguments,
     which he had collected from the conversation of men fond of
     ingenious subtilties; and the style, excepting some declamatory
     passages, was as inflated and confused as the thoughts were far
     fetched and unconnected."

But though she was so far from approving of the original, her
translation, published in London in 1788, was declared by the "European
Magazine" to be just and spirited, though apparently too hastily
executed; and it was sufficiently appreciated by the English-speaking
public to be republished in Philadelphia in 1791. There was at least one
book, the translation of which must have been a pleasure to her. This was
the Rev. C. G. Salzmann's "Elements of Morality, for the Use of
Children." Its object, like that of the "Original Stories," was to teach
the young, by practical illustration, why virtue is good, why vice is
evil. It was written much in the same style, and was for many years
highly popular. Johnson brought out the first edition in 1790 and a
second in 1793. It was published in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1811, and in
Edinburgh in 1821, and a still newer edition was prepared for the
present generation by Miss Yonge. The "Analytical Review" thought it upon
its first appearance worthy of two notices.

Mary never pretended to produce perfectly literal translations. Her
version of Lavater's "Physiognomy," now unknown, was but an abridgment.
She purposely "naturalized" the "Elements of Morality," she explains, in
order not to "puzzle children by pointing out modifications of manners,
when the grand principles of morality were to be fixed on a broad basis."
She made free with the originals that they might better suit English
readers, and this she frankly confesses in her Prefaces. Her translations
are, in consequence, proofs of her industry and varied talents and not
demonstrations of her own mental character.

The novel "Mary," like Godwin's earlier stories, has disappeared. There
are a few men and women of the present generation who remember having
seen it, but it is now not to be found either in public libraries or in
bookstores. It was the record of a happy friendship, and to write it had
been a labor of love. As Mary always wrote most eloquently on subjects
which were of heartfelt interest, its disappearance is to be regretted.

However, after she had been in London about two years, constant writing
and translating having by that time made her readier with her pen, she
undertook another task, in which her feelings were as strongly
interested. This was her answer to Burke's "Reflections on the French
Revolution." Love of humanity was an emotion which moved her quite as
deeply as affection for individual friends. Burke, by his disregard for
the sufferings of that portion of the human race which especially
appealed to her, excited her wrath. Carried away by the intensity of her
indignation, she at once set about proving to him and the world that the
reasoning which led to such insensibility was, plausible as it might
seem, wholly unsound. She never paused for reflection, but her chief
arguments, the result of previous thought, being already prepared, she
wrote before her excitement had time to cool. As she explains in the
Advertisement to her "Letter" to Burke, the "Reflections" had first
engaged her attention as the transient topic of the day. Commenting upon
it as she read, her remarks increased to such an extent that she decided
to publish them as a short "Vindication of the Rights of Man."

A sermon preached by Dr. Richard Price was the immediate reason which
moved Burke to write the "Reflections." The Revolutionists were in the
habit of meeting every 4th of November, the anniversary of the arrival of
the Prince of Orange in England, to commemorate the Revolution of 1688.
Dr. Price was, in 1789, the orator of the day. He, on this occasion,
expressed his warm approbation of the actions of the French Republicans,
in which sentiment he was warmly seconded by all the other members of the
society. Burke seized upon these demonstrations as a pretext for
expounding his own views upon the proceedings in France. The sermon and
orations were really not of enough importance to evoke the long essay
with which he favored them. But though he began by denouncing the English
Revolutionists in particular, the subject so inflamed him that before he
had finished, he had written without restraint his opinion of the social
struggle of the French people, and given his definition of the word
Liberty, then in everybody's mouth. As he wrote, news came pouring into
England of later political developments in France which increased instead
of lessening his hatred and distrust of the Revolution. It was a year
before he had finished his work, and it had then grown into a lengthy and
elaborate treatise.

The "Reflections" gives a careful exposition of the errors of the French
Republican party, and the shortcomings of the National Assembly; and, to
add to this the force of antithesis, it extols the merits and virtues of
the English Constitution. Furthermore, it points out the evil
consequences which must follow the realization of the French attempts at
reform. But the real question at issue is the nature of the rights of
men. It was to gain for their countrymen the justice which they thought
their due, that the revolutionary leaders curtailed the power of the
king, lowered the nobility, and disgraced the clergy. If it could be
proved that their conception of human justice was wholly wrong, the very
foundation of their political structure would be destroyed. Burke's
arguments, therefore, are all intended to achieve this end.

In her detestation of his insensibility to the natural equality of
mankind, Mary was too impatient to consider the minor points of his
reasoning. She announces in her Advertisement that she intends to confine
her strictures, in a great measure, to the grand principles at which he
levels his ingenious arguments. Her object, therefore, as well as
Burke's, is to demonstrate what are the rights of men, but she reasons
from a very different stand-point. Burke defends the claims of those who
inherit rights from long generations of ancestors; Mary cries aloud in
defence of men whose one inheritance is the deprivation of all rights.
Burke is moved by the misery of a Marie Antoinette, shorn of her
greatness; Mary, by the wretchedness of the poor peasant woman who has
never possessed even its shadow. The former knows no birthright for
individuals save that which results from the prescription of centuries;
the latter contends that every man has a right, as a human being, to
"such a degree of liberty, civil and religious, as is compatible with the
liberty of the other individuals with whom he is united in social
compact." Burke asserts that the present rights of man cannot be decided
by reason alone, since they are founded on laws and customs long
established. But Mary asks, How far back are we to go to discover their
first foundation? Is it in England to the reign of Richard II., whose
incapacity rendered him a mere cipher in the hands of the Barons; or to
that of Edward III., whose need for money forced him to concede certain
privileges to the commons? Is social slavery to be encouraged because it
was established in semi-barbarous days? Does Burke, she continues,--

     "... recommend night as the fittest time to analyze a ray of light?

     "Are we to seek for the rights of men in the ages when a few marks
     were the only penalty imposed for the life of a man, and death for
     death when the property of the rich was touched?--when--I blush to
     discover the depravity of our nature--a deer was killed! Are these
     the laws that it is natural to love, and sacrilegious to invade?
     Were the rights of men understood when the law authorized or
     tolerated murder?--or is power and right the same?"

Burke's contempt for the poor, which Mary thought the most conspicuous
feature of his treatise, was the chief cause of her indignation. She
could not endure silently his admonitions to the laboring class to
respect the property which they could not possess, and his exhortations
to them to find their consolation for ill-rewarded labor in the "final
proportions of eternal justice." "It is, sir, possible," she tells him
with some dignity, "to render the poor happier in this world, without
depriving them of the consolation which you gratuitously grant them in
the next." To her mind, the oppression which the lower classes had
endured for ages, until they had become in the end beings scarcely above
the brutes, made the losses of the French nobility and clergy seem by
comparison very insignificant evils. The horrors of the 6th of October,
the discomforts and degradation of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, and
the destitution to which many French refugees had been reduced, blinded
Burke to the long-suffering of the multitude which now rendered the
distress of the few imperative. But Mary's feelings were all stirred in
the opposite cause.

     "What," she asks in righteous indignation,--"what were the outrages
     of the day to these continual miseries? Let those sorrows hide
     their diminished heads before the tremendous mountain of woe that
     thus defaces our globe! Man preys on man, and you mourn for the
     idle tapestry that decorated a Gothic pile, and the dronish bell
     that summoned the fat priest to prayer. You mourn for the empty
     pageant of a name, when slavery flaps her wing, and the sick heart
     retires to die in lonely wilds, far from the abodes of man. Did the
     pangs you felt for insulted nobility, the anguish which rent your
     heart when the gorgeous robes were torn off the idol human weakness
     had set up, deserve to be compared with the long-drawn sigh of
     melancholy reflection, when misery and vice thus seem to haunt our
     steps, and swim on the top of every cheering prospect? Why is our
     fancy to be appalled by terrific perspectives of a hell beyond the
     grave? Hell stalks abroad: the lash resounds on a slave's naked
     sides; and the sick wretch, who can no longer earn the sour bread
     of unremitting labor, steals to a ditch to bid the world a long
     good-night, or, neglected in some ostentatious hospital, breathes
     its last amidst the laugh of mercenary attendants."

Occasionally Mary interrupts the main drift of her "Letter" to refute
some of the incidental statements in the "Reflections." But in doing this
she is more eager to show the evils of English political and social laws,
which Burke praises so unreservedly, than to prove that many existed in
the old French government, a fact which he obstinately refuses to
recognize. This may have been because she then knew little more than
Burke of the real state of affairs in France, and would not take the time
to collect her proofs. This is very likely, for the chief fault of her
"Letter" is undue haste in its composition. It was written on the spur of
the moment, and is without the method indispensable to such a work. There
is no order in the arguments advanced, and too often reasoning gives
place to exhortation and meditation. Another serious error is the
personal abuse with which her "Letter" abounds. She treats Burke in the
very same manner with which she reproves him for treating Dr. Price.
Instead of confining herself to denunciation of his views, she attacks
his character, she accuses him of vanity and susceptibility to the charms
of rank, of insincerity and affectation. She calls him a slave of
impulse, and tells him he is too full of himself, and even compares his
love for the English Constitution to the brutal affection of weakness
built on blind, indolent tenderness, rather than on rational grounds.
Sometimes she grows eloquent in her sarcasm.

     "... On what principle you, sir," she observes, "can justify the
     Reformation, which tore up by the roots an old establishment, I
     cannot guess,--but I beg your pardon, perhaps you do not wish to
     justify it, and have some mental reservation to excuse you to
     yourself, for not openly avowing your reverence. Or, to go further
     back, had you been a Jew, you must have joined in the cry, 'Crucify
     him! Crucify him!' The promulgator of a new doctrine, and the
     violator of old laws and customs, that did not, like ours, melt
     into darkness and ignorance, but rested on Divine authority, must
     have been a dangerous innovator in your eyes, particularly if you
     had not been informed that the Carpenter's Son was of the stock and
     lineage of David."

But vituperation is not argument, and abuse proves nothing. This is a
fault, however, into which youth readily falls. Mary was young when she
wrote the "Vindication of the Rights of Man," and feeling was still too
strong to be forgotten in calm discussion. It was a mistake, too, to
dwell, as she did, on the inconsistency between Burke's earlier and
present policy. This was a powerful weapon against him at the time, but
posterity has recognized the consistency which, in reality, underlay his
seemingly diverse political creeds. Besides, the demonstration that
sentiments in the "Reflections" were at variance with others expressed
some years previously, did not prove them to be unsound.

Because of these faults of youth and haste, Mary's "Letter" is not very
powerful when considered as a reply to Burke; but its intrinsic merits
are many. It is a simple, uncompromising expression of honest opinions.
It is noble in its fearlessness, and it manifests a philosophical insight
into the meaning and basis of morality wonderful in a woman of Mary's
age. It really deserves the praise bestowed upon it in the "Analytical
Review," where the critic says that, "notwithstanding it may be the
'effusion of the moment,' [it] yet evidently abounds with just sentiments
and lively and animated remarks, expressed in elegant and nervous
language, and which may be read with pleasure and improvement when the
controversy which gave rise to them is over."



The "Vindication of the Rights of Women" is the work on which Mary
Wollstonecraft's fame as an author rests. It is more than probable that,
but for it, her other writings would long since have been forgotten. In
it she speaks the first word in behalf of female emancipation. Her book
is the forerunner of a movement which, whatever may be its results, will
always be ranked as one of the most important of the nineteenth century.
Many of her propositions are, to the present advocates of the cause,
foregone conclusions. Hers was the voice of one crying in the wilderness
to prepare the way. Her principal task was to demonstrate that the old
ideals were false.

The then most exalted type of feminine perfection was Rousseau's Sophia.
Though this was an advance from the conception of the sex which inspired
Congreve, when he made the women of his comedies mere targets for men's
gallantries, or Swift, when he wrote his "Advice to a Young Married
Lady," it was still a low estimate of woman's character and sphere of
action. According to Rousseau, and the Dr. Gregorys and Fordyces who
re-echoed his doctrines in England, women are so far inferior to men that
their contribution to the comfort and pleasure of the latter is the sole
reason for their existence. For them virtue and duty have a relative and
not an absolute value. What they _are_ is of no consequence. The
essential point is what they _seem_ to men. That they are human beings is
lost sight of in the all-engrossing fact that they are women.

It is strange that Rousseau, who would have had men return to a state of
nature that they might be freed from shams and conventionalities, did not
see that the sacrifice of reality to appearances was quite as bad for
women. Mary Wollstonecraft, farther-sighted than he, discovered at once
the flaw in his reasoning. What was said of Schopenhauer by a Frenchman
could with equal truth be said of her: "Ce n'est pas un philosophe comme
les autres, c'est un philosophe qui a vu le monde." She had lived in
woman's world, and consequently, unlike the sentimentalists who were
accepted authorities on the subject, she did not reason from an outside
stand-point. This was probably what helped her not only to recognize the
false position of her sex, but to understand the real cause of the
trouble. She referred it, not to individual cases of masculine tyranny or
feminine incompetency, but to the fundamental misconception of the
relations of the sexes. Therefore, what she had to do was to awaken
mankind to the knowledge that women are human beings, and then to insist
that they should be given the opportunity to assert themselves as such,
and that their sex should become a secondary consideration. It would have
been useless for her to analyze their rights in detail until she had
established the premises upon which their claims must rest. It is true
she contends for their political emancipation. "I really think," she
writes, "that women ought to have representatives instead of being
arbitrarily governed without having any direct share allowed them in the
deliberations of government." And she also maintains their ability for
the practice of many professions, especially of medicine. But this she
says, as it were, in parenthesis. These necessary reforms cannot be even
begun until the equality of the sexes as human beings is proved beyond a
doubt. The object of the "Vindication" is to demonstrate this equality,
and to point out the preliminary measures by which it may be secured.

The book is now seldom read. Others of later date have supplanted it.
Conservative readers are prejudiced against it because of its title. The
majority of the liberal-minded have not the patience to master its
contents because they can find its propositions expressed more
satisfactorily elsewhere. Yet, as a work which marks an epoch, it
deserves to be well known. A comprehensive analysis of it will therefore
not be out of place.

It begins strangely, as it appears to this generation, with a dedication
to Talleyrand. Mary had seen him often when he had been in London, and
only knew what was best in him. She admired his principles, being
ignorant of his utter indifference to them. He had lately published a
pamphlet on National Education, and this was a subject upon which, in
vindicating women's rights, she had much to say. He had, in pleading the
cause of equality for all men, approached so closely to the whole truth
that she thought, once this was pointed out to him, he could not fail to
recognize it as she did. If he believed that, in his own words, "to see
one half of the human race excluded by the other from all participation
in government was a political phenomenon that, according to abstract
principles, it was impossible to explain," he could not logically deny
that prescription was unjust when applied to women. Therefore, as a new
constitution--the first based upon reason--was about to be established in
France, she reminds him that its framers would be tyrants like their
predecessors if they did not allow women to participate in it. In order
to command his interest, she explains briefly and concisely the truth
which she proposes to prove by her arguments, and thus she gives
immediately the keynote to her book.

     "Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument," she tells
     him, "is built on this simple principle, that if she be not
     prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop
     the progress of knowledge; for truth must be common to all, or it
     will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general
     practice. And how can woman be expected to co-operate unless she
     know why she ought to be virtuous; unless freedom strengthen her
     reason till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is
     connected with her real good? If children are to be educated to
     understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother must be a
     patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of
     virtues spring, can only be produced by considering the moral and
     civil interests of mankind; but the education and situation of
     woman, at present, shuts her out from such investigations.

     "In this work I have produced many arguments, which to me were
     conclusive, to prove that the prevailing notion respecting a sexual
     character was subversive of morality; and I have contended, that to
     render the human body and mind more perfect, chastity must more
     universally prevail, and that chastity will never be respected in
     the male world till the person of a woman is not, as it were,
     idolized, when little virtue or sense embellish it with the grand
     traces of mental beauty or the interesting simplicity of

In her Introduction Mary further states the object and scope of her work.
She advances the importance of bringing to a more healthy condition
women, who, like flowers nourished in over-luxuriant soil, have become
beautiful at the expense of strength. She attributes their weakness to
the systems of education which have aimed at making them alluring
mistresses rather than rational wives, and taught them to crave love,
instead of exacting respect. But, to prevent misunderstanding, she
explains that she does not wish them to seek to transform themselves into
men by cultivating essentially masculine qualities. They are inferior
physically, and must be content to remain so. Enthusiasm never carried
her to the absurd and exaggerated extremes which have made later
champions of the cause laughing-stocks. She also expresses her intention
of steering clear of an error into which most writers upon the subject,
with the exception perhaps of the author of "Sandford and Merton," have
fallen; namely, that of addressing their instruction to women of the
upper classes. But she intends, while including all ranks of society, to
give particular attention to the middle class, who appear to her to be in
a more natural state. Then, warning her sex that she will treat them like
rational creatures, and not as beings doomed to perpetual childhood, she
tells them:--

     "... I wish to show that elegance is inferior to virtue, that the
     first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a
     human being, regardless of the distinction of sex, and that
     secondary views should be brought to this simple touchstone."

The Introduction is important because, as she says, it is the "very
essence of an introduction to give a cursory account of the contents of
the work it introduces." Having learnt from it what she intends to do, it
remains to be seen how she accomplishes her task.

For the convenience of readers, the treatise may be divided into three
parts, though the author does not make this division, and was probably
unconscious of its possibility. The first chapters give a general
statement of the case. The second part is an elaboration of the first,
and is more concerned with individual forms of the evil than with it as a
whole. The third part suggests the remedy by which women are to be
delivered from social slavery.

Mary assumes as the basis of her entire argument that "the more equality
there is established among men, the more virtue and happiness will reign
in society." The moral value of equality she demonstrates by the
wretchedness and wickedness which result whenever there is a substitution
of arbitrary power for the law of reason. The regal position, for
example, is gained by vile intrigues and unnatural crimes and vices, and
maintained by the sacrifice of true wisdom and virtue. Military
discipline, since it demands unquestioning submission to the will of
others, encourages thoughtless action. Even the clergy, because of the
blind acquiescence required from them to certain forms of belief, have
their faculties cramped. This being the case, it follows that society,
"as it becomes more enlightened, should be very careful not to establish
bodies of men who must necessarily be made foolish or vicious by the very
constitution of their profession." Now women, that is to say, one half of
the human race, have hitherto, on account of their sex, been absolutely
debarred from the exercise of reason in forming their conduct. As women
it has been supposed that they cannot have the same ideals as men. What
is vice for the latter is for them virtue. Their duty is to acquire
"cunning, softness of temper, _outward_ obedience, and a scrupulous
attention to a puerile kind of propriety." They are to render themselves
"gentle domestic brutes." In their education the training of their
understanding is to be neglected for the cultivation of corporeal
accomplishments. They are bidden to obey no laws save those of behavior,
to which they are as complete slaves as soldiers are to the commands of
their general, or the clergy to the _ex cathedra_ utterances of their
church. Fondness for dress, habits of dissimulation, and the affectation
of a sickly delicacy are recommended for their cultivation as essentially
feminine qualities; yet if virtue have but one eternal standard, it
should be the same in quality for the two sexes, even if there must be a
difference in the degree acquired by each. If women be moral beings, they
should aim at unfolding all their faculties, and not, as Rousseau and his
disciples would have them do, labor only to make themselves pleasing
sexually. Even if this be counted a praiseworthy end, and they succeed
in it, to what or how long will it avail them? The result proves the
unsoundness of such doctrines:--

     "The woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that
     her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much
     effect on her husband's heart when they are seen every day, when
     the summer is past and gone. Will she then have sufficient native
     energy to look into herself for comfort, and cultivate her dormant
     faculties; or is it not more rational to expect, that she will try
     to please other men, and, in the emotions raised by the expectation
     of new conquests, endeavor to forget the mortification her love or
     pride has received? When the husband ceases to be a lover--and the
     time will inevitably come--her desire of pleasing will then grow
     languid, or become a spring of bitterness; and love, perhaps the
     most evanescent of all passions, give place to jealousy or vanity.

     "I now speak of women who are restrained by principle or prejudice;
     such women, though they would shrink from an intrigue with real
     abhorrence, yet, nevertheless, wish to be convinced by the homage
     of gallantry, that they are cruelly neglected by their husbands; or
     days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happiness enjoyed by
     congenial souls, till the health is undermined and the spirits
     broken by discontent. How, then, can the great art of pleasing be
     such a necessary study? It is only useful to a mistress; the chaste
     wife and serious mother should only consider her power to please as
     the polish of her virtues, and the affection of her husband as one
     of the comforts that render her task less difficult, and her life

Coquettish arts triumph only for a day. Love, the most transitory of all
passions, is inevitably succeeded by friendship or indifference.

The arguments which have been advanced to support this degrading system
of female education are easily proved to have no foundation in reason.
Women, it is said, are not so strong physically as men. True; but this
does not imply that they have no strength whatsoever. Because they are
weak relatively, it does not follow that they should be made so
absolutely. The sedentary life to which they are condemned weakens them,
and then their weakness is accepted as an inherent, instead of an
artificial, quality. Rousseau concludes that a woman is naturally a
coquette, and governed in all matters by the sexual instinct, because her
earliest amusements consist in playing with dolls, dressing them and
herself, and in talking. These conclusions are almost too puerile to be

     "That a girl, condemned to sit for hours listening to the idle chat
     of weak nurses or to attend at her mother's toilet, will endeavor
     to join the conversation, is indeed very natural; and that she will
     imitate her mother or aunts, and amuse herself by adorning her
     lifeless doll, as they do in dressing her, poor innocent babe! is
     undoubtedly a most natural consequence. For men of the greatest
     abilities have seldom had sufficient strength to rise above the
     surrounding atmosphere; and if the page of genius has always been
     blurred by the prejudices of the age, some allowance should be made
     for a sex, who, like kings, always see things through a false

The truth is, were girls allowed the same freedom in the choice of
amusements as boys, they would manifest an equal fondness for out-of-door
sports, to the neglect of dolls and frivolous pastimes. But it is denied
to them. Directors of their education have, as a rule, been blind
adherents to the doctrine that whatever is, is right, and hence have
argued that because women have always been brought up in a certain way
they should continue to be so trained.

The worst of it is that the artificial delicacy of constitution thus
produced is the cause of a corresponding weakness of mind; and women are
in actual fact _fair defects_ in creation, as they have been called. And
yet, after having been unfitted for action, they are expected to be
competent to take charge of a family. The woman who is well-disposed, and
whose husband is a sensible man, may act with propriety so long as he is
alive to direct her. But if he were to die how could she alone educate
her children and manage her household with discretion? The woman who is
ill-disposed is not only incapacitated for her duties, but, in her desire
to please and to have pleasure, she neglects dull domestic cares.

     "It does not require a lively pencil, or the discriminating outline
     of a caricature, to sketch the domestic miseries and petty vices
     which such a mistress of a family diffuses. Still, she only acts as
     a woman ought to act, brought up according to Rousseau's system.
     She can never be reproached for being masculine, or turning out of
     her sphere; nay, she may observe another of his grand rules, and,
     cautiously preserving her reputation free from spot, be reckoned a
     good kind of woman. Yet in what respect can she be termed good? She
     abstains, it is true, without any great struggle, from committing
     gross crimes; but how does she fulfil her duties? Duties--in truth,
     she has enough to think of to adorn her body and nurse a weak

     "With respect to religion, she never presumes to judge for herself;
     but conforms, as a dependent creature should, to the ceremonies of
     the church which she was brought up in, piously believing that
     wiser heads than her own have settled that business; and not to
     doubt is her point of perfection. She therefore pays her tithe of
     mint and cummin, and thanks her God that she is not as other women
     are. These are the blessed effects of a good education! these the
     virtues of man's helpmate!"

At this point Mary, after having given the picture of woman as she is
now, describes her as she ought to be. This description is worth quoting,
but not because it contains any originality of thought or charm of
expression. It is interesting as showing exactly what the first sower of
the seeds of female enfranchisement expected to reap for her harvest.
People who are frightened by a name are apt to suppose that women who
defend their rights would have the world filled with uninspired Joans of
Arc, and unrefined Portias. Those who judge Mary Wollstonecraft by her
conduct, without inquiring into her motives or reading her book, might
conclude that what she desired was the destruction of family ties and,
consequently, of moral order. Therefore, in justice to her, the purity of
her ideals of feminine perfection and her respect for the sanctity of
domestic life should be clearly established. This can not be better done
than by giving her own words on the subject:--

     "Let fancy now present a woman with a tolerable understanding,--for
     I do not wish to leave the line of mediocrity,--whose constitution,
     strengthened by exercise, has allowed her body to acquire its full
     vigor, her mind at the same time gradually expanding itself to
     comprehend the moral duties of life, and in what human virtue and
     dignity consist. Formed thus by the relative duties of her
     station, she marries from affection, without losing sight of
     prudence; and looking beyond matrimonial felicity, she secures her
     husband's respect before it is necessary to exert mean arts to
     please him, and feed a dying flame, which nature doomed to expire
     when the object became familiar, when friendship and forbearance
     take the place of a more ardent affection. This is the natural
     death of love, and domestic peace is not destroyed by struggles to
     prevent its extinction. I also suppose the husband to be virtuous;
     or she is still more in want of independent principles.

     "Fate, however, breaks this tie. She is left a widow, perhaps
     without a sufficient provision; but she is not desolate. The pang
     of nature is felt; but after time has softened sorrow into
     melancholy resignation, her heart turns to her children with
     redoubled fondness, and, anxious to provide for them, affection
     gives a sacred, heroic cast to her maternal duties. She thinks that
     not only the eye sees her virtuous efforts from whom all her
     comfort now must flow, and whose approbation is life; but her
     imagination, a little abstracted and exalted by grief, dwells on
     the fond hope that the eyes which her trembling hand closed may
     still see how she subdues every wayward passion to fulfil the
     double duty of being the father as well as the mother of her
     children. Raised to heroism by misfortunes, she represses the first
     faint dawning of a natural inclination before it ripens into love,
     and in the bloom of life forgets her sex, forgets the pleasure of
     an awakening passion, which might again have been inspired and
     returned. She no longer thinks of pleasing, and conscious dignity
     prevents her from priding herself on account of the praise which
     her conduct demands. Her children have her love, and her highest
     hopes are beyond the grave, where her imagination often strays.

     "I think I see her surrounded by her children, reaping the reward
     of her care. The intelligent eye meets hers, whilst health and
     innocence smile on their chubby cheeks, and as they grow up the
     cares of life are lessened by their grateful attention. She lives
     to see the virtues which she endeavored to plant on principles,
     fixed into habits, to see her children attain a strength of
     character sufficient to enable them to endure adversity without
     forgetting their mother's example.

     "The task of life thus fulfilled, she calmly waits for the sleep of
     death, and rising from the grave may say, Behold, thou gavest me a
     talent, and here are five talents."

Truly, if this be the result of the vindication of their rights, even the
most devoted believer in Rousseau must admit that women thereby will
gain, and not lose, in true womanliness.

From the primal source of their wrongs,--that is, the undue importance
attached to the sexual character,--Mary next explains that minor causes
have arisen to prevent women from realizing this ideal. The narrowness of
mind engendered by their vicious education hinders them from looking
beyond the interests of the present. They consider immediate rather than
remote effects, and prefer to be "short-lived queens than to labor to
attain the sober pleasures that arise from equality." Then, again, the
desire to be loved or respected for something, which is instinctive in
all human beings, is gratified in women by the homage paid to charms born
of indolence. They thus, like the rich, lose the stimulus to exertion
which this desire gives to men of the middle class, and which is one of
the chief factors in the development of rational creatures. A man with a
profession struggles to succeed in it. A woman struggles to marry
advantageously. With the former, pleasure is a relaxation; with the
latter, it is the main purpose of life. Therefore, while the man is
forced to forget himself in his work, the woman's attention is more and
more concentrated upon her own person. The great evil of this
self-culture is that the emotions are developed instead of the intellect.
Women become a prey to what is delicately called sensibility. They feel
and do not reason, and, depending upon men for protection and advice, the
only effort they make is to give their weakness a graceful covering. They
require, in the end, support even in the most trifling circumstances.
Their fears are perhaps pretty and attractive to men, but they reduce
them to such a degree of imbecility that they will start "from the frown
of an old cow or the jump of a mouse," and a rat becomes a serious
danger. These fair, fragile creatures are the objects of Mary
Wollstonecraft's deepest contempt, and she gives a good wholesome
prescription for their cure, which, despite modern co-education and Women
Conventions, female doctors and lawyers, might still be more generally
adopted to great advantage. It is in such passages as the following that
she proves the practical tendency of her arguments:--

     "I am fully persuaded that we should hear of none of these
     infantine airs if girls were allowed to take sufficient exercise
     and not confined in close rooms till their muscles are relaxed and
     their powers of digestion destroyed. To carry the remark still
     further, if fear in girls, instead of being cherished, perhaps
     created, was treated in the same manner as cowardice in boys, we
     should quickly see women with more dignified aspects. It is true
     they could not then with equal propriety be termed the sweet
     flowers that smile in the walk of man; but they would be more
     respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties
     of life by the light of their own reasons. 'Educate women like
     men,' says Rousseau, 'and the more they resemble our sex, the less
     power will they have over us.' This is the very point I aim at. I
     do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves."

Some philosophers have asserted with contempt, as evidence of the
inferiority of the female understanding, that it arrives at maturity long
before the male, and that women attain their full strength and growth at
twenty, but men not until they are thirty. But this Mary emphatically
denies. The seeming earlier precocity of girls she attributes to the fact
that they are much sooner treated as women than boys are as men. Their
more speedy physical development is assumed because with them the
standard of beauty is fine features and complexion, whilst male beauty is
allowed to have some connection with the mind. But the truth is, that
"strength of body and that character of countenance which the French term
a _physionomie_, women do not acquire before thirty any more than men."

There are some curious remarks in reference to polygamy as a mark of the
inferiority of women, but they need not be given here, since this evil is
not legally recognized by civilized people, with the exception of the
Mormons. But there is a polygamy, not sanctioned by law, which exists in
all countries, and which has done more than almost anything else to
dishonor women. Mary's observations in this connection are among the
strongest in the book. She understands the true difficulty more
thoroughly than many social reformers to-day, and offers a better
solution of the problem than they do. Justice, not charity, she declares,
is wanted in the world. Asylums and Magdalens are not the proper remedies
for the abuse. But women should be given the same chance as men to rise
after their fall. The first offence should not be made unpardonable,
since good can come from evil. From a struggle with strong passions
virtue is often evolved.

To sum up in a few words Mary's statement of her subject, woman having
always been treated as an irrational, inferior being, has in the end
become one. Her acquiescence to her moral and mental degradation springs
from a want of understanding. But "whether this arises from a physical or
accidental weakness of faculties, time alone can determine." Women must
be allowed to exercise their understanding before it can be proved that
they have none.

While each individual man is much to blame in encouraging the false
position of women, inconsistently degrading those from whom they pretend
to derive their chief pleasure, still greater fault lies with writers who
have given to the world in their works opinions which, seemingly
favorable, are in reality of a derogatory character to the entire sex.
Having set themselves up as teachers, they are doubly responsible. They
add to their personal influence that of their written doctrine. They
necessarily become leaders, since the majority of men are more than
willing to be led. There were several writers of the eighteenth century
who had dogmatized about women and their education and the laws of
behavior. Rousseau was to many as an inspired prophet. No woman's library
was then considered complete which did not include Dr. Fordyce's Sermons
and Dr. Gregory's "Legacy to His Daughters." Mrs. Piozzi and Madame de
Staël were minor authorities, and Lord Chesterfield's Letters had their
admirers and upholders. These writers Mary treats separately, after she
has shown the result of the tacit teaching of men, taken collectively;
and here what may be called the second part of the book begins.

As Mary says, the comments which follow can all be referred to a few
simple principles, and "might have been deduced from what I have already
said." They are a mere elaboration of what has gone before, and it would
be therefore useless to repeat them. She exposes the folly of Rousseau's
ideal, the perfect Sophia who unites the endurance of a Griselda to the
wiles of a Vivien, and whose principal mission seems to be to make men
wonder, with the French cynic, of what use women over forty are in the
world. She objects to Dr. Fordyce's eulogium of female purity and his
Rousseau-inspired appeals to women to make themselves all that is
desirable in men's eyes, expressed in "lover-like phrases of pumped-up
passion." The sensuous piety of his Sermons, suggestive of the erotic
religious poems of the East, were particularly offensive to her. She next
regrets that Dr. Gregory, at such a solemn moment as that of giving last
words of advice to his daughters, should have added the weight of his
authority to the doctrine of dissimulation; she is indignant that Mrs.
Piozzi and Madame de Staël should have so little realized the dignity of
true womanhood as to have confirmed the fiat their tyrants had passed
against them; and she vigorously condemns Lord Chesterfield's vicious
system, which tends to the early acquirement of knowledge of the world
and leaves but little opportunity for the free development of man's
natural powers. These writers, no matter how much they differ in detail,
agree in believing external behavior to be of primary importance; and
Mary's criticisms of their separate beliefs may therefore be reduced to
one leading proposition by which she contradicts their main assertions.
Right and wrong, virtue and vice, must be studied in the abstract and not
by the measure of weak human laws and customs. This is the refrain to all
her arguments.

These remarks are followed by four chapters which, while they really
relate to the subject, add little to the force of the book. Introduced as
they are, they seem like disconnected essays. There is a dissertation
upon the effect of early associations of ideas to prove what has already
been asserted in an earlier chapter, that "females, who are made women of
when they are mere children, and brought back to childhood when they
ought to leave the go-cart forever," will inevitably have a sexual
character given to their minds. Modesty is next considered, not as a
sexual virtue but comprehensively, to show that it is a quality which,
regardless of sex, should always be based on humanity and knowledge, and
never on the false principle that it is a means by which women make
themselves pleasing to men. To teach girls that reserve is only necessary
when they are with persons of the other sex is at once to destroy in
their minds the intrinsic value of modesty. Yet this is usually the
lesson taught them. As a natural consequence, women are free and
confidential with each other to a fault, and foolishly prudent and
squeamish with men. They are never for a moment unconscious of the
difference of sex, and, in affecting the semblance of modesty, the true
virtue escapes them altogether. In their neglect of what _is_ for what
_seems_, they lose the substance and grasp a shadow. This consideration
of behavior, arbitrarily regulated, rather than of conduct ruled by
truth, leads women to care much more for their reputation than for their
actual chastity or virtue. They gradually learn to believe that the sin
is in being found out. "Women mind not what only Heaven sees." If their
reputation be safe, their consciences are satisfied. A woman who, despite
innumerable gallantries, preserves her fair name, looks down with
contempt upon another who perhaps has sinned but once, but who has not
been as clever a mistress of the art of deception.

     "This regard for reputation, independent of its being one of the
     natural rewards of virtue, however, took its rise from a cause that
     I have already deplored as the grand source of female depravity,
     the impossibility of regaining respectability by a return to
     virtue, though men preserve theirs during the indulgence of vice.
     It was natural for women then to endeavor to preserve what, once
     lost, was lost forever, till, this care swallowing up every other
     care, reputation for chastity became the one thing needful for the

As pernicious as the effects of distorted conceptions of virtue are those
which arise from unnatural social distinctions. This is a return to the
proposition relating to the necessity of equality with which the book
opens. In treating it in detail the question of woman's work is more
closely studied. The evils which the difference of rank creates are
aggravated in her case. Men of the higher classes of society can, by
entering a political or military life, make duties for themselves. Women
in the same station are not allowed these channels of escape from the
demoralizing idleness and luxury to which their social position confines
them. On the other hand, women of the middle class, who are above menial
service but who are forced to work, have the choice of a few despised
employments. Milliners and mantua-makers are respected only a little more
than prostitutes. The situation of governess is looked upon in the light
of a degradation, since those who fill it are gentlewomen who never
expected to be _humiliated_ by work. Many women marry and sacrifice their
happiness to fly from such slavery. Others have not even this pitiful
alternative. "Is not that government then very defective, and very
unmindful of the happiness of one half of its members, that does not
provide for honest, independent women, by encouraging them to fill
respectable stations?" It is a melancholy result of civilization that the
"most respectable women are the most oppressed."

The next chapter, on Paternal Affection, leads to the third part of the
treatise. It is not enough for a reformer to pull down. He must build up
as well, or at least lay the foundation stone of a new structure. The
missionary does not only tell the heathen that his religion is false, but
he instructs him in the new one which is to take its place. The
scientist, besides maintaining that old theories are exploded, explains
to the student new facts which have superseded them. Mary, after
demonstrating the viciousness of existing educational systems, suggests
wherein they may be improved, so that women, their understandings trained
and developed, may have the chance to show what they really are.

Family duties necessarily precede those of society. As the "formation of
the mind must be begun very early, and the temper, in particular,
requires the most judicious attention," a child's training should be
undertaken, not from the time it is sent to school, but almost from the
moment of its birth. Therefore a few words as to the relations between
parents and children are an indispensable introduction to the larger
subject of education, properly so called, which prepares the young for
social life.

Father and mother are rightful protectors of their child, and should
accept the charge of it, instead of hiring a substitute for this purpose.
It is not even enough for them to be regulated in this matter by the
dictates of natural affection. They must be guided by reason. For there
are the two equally dangerous extremes of tyrannical exercise of power
and of weak indulgence to be avoided. Unless their understanding be
strengthened and enlightened, they will not know what duties to exact
from their children. In their own disregard of reason as a guide to
conduct, they "demand blind obedience," and, to render their demand
binding, a "mysterious sanctity is spread around the most arbitrary
principle." Parents have a right to expect their children throughout
their lives to pay them due respect, give heed to their advice, and take
care of them should illness or old age make it impossible for them to do
this for themselves; but they should never desire to subjugate their sons
and daughters to their own will, after they have arrived at years of
discretion and can answer for their actions. To obey a parent, "only on
account of his being a parent, shackles the mind, and prepares it for a
slavish submission to any power but reason." These remarks are
particularly applicable to girls, who "from various causes are more kept
down by their parents, in every sense of the word, than boys," though in
the case of the latter there is still room for improvement. That filial
duty should thus be reduced to slavery is inexcusable, since children can
very soon be made to understand why they are requested to do certain
things habitually. This, of course, necessitates trouble; but it is the
only way to qualify them for contact with the world, and the active life
which must come with their maturity.

Once this rational foundation has been laid for the formation of a
child's character, more immediate attention can be given to the
development of its mental faculties and social tendencies.

The first step in solving the great problem of education--and here both
sexes are referred to--is to decide whether it should be public or
private. The objections to private education are serious. It is not good
for children to be too much in the society of men and women; for they
then "acquire that kind of premature manhood which stops the growth of
every vigorous power of mind or body." By growing accustomed to have
their questions answered by older people instead of being obliged to seek
the answers for themselves, as they are forced to do when thrown with
other children, they do not learn how to think for themselves. The very
groundwork of self-reliance is thus destroyed. "Besides, in youth the
seeds of every affection should be sown, and the respectful regard which
is felt for a parent is very different from the social affections that
are to constitute the happiness of life as it advances." "Frank
ingenuousness" can only be attained by young people being frequently in
society where they dare to speak what they think. To know how to live
with their equals when they are grown up, children must learn to
associate with them when they are young.

The evils which result from the boarding-school system are almost as
great as those of private education. The tyranny established among the
boys is demoralizing, while the acquiescence to the forms of religion
demanded of them, encourages hypocrisy. Children who live away from home
are unfitted for domestic life. "Public education of every denomination
should be directed to form citizens, but if you wish to make good
citizens, you must first exercise the affections of a son and a brother."
Home-training on the one hand, and boarding-schools on the other, being
equally vicious, the only way out of the difficulty is to combine the two
systems, retaining what is best in each, and doing away with what is
evil. This combination could be obtained by the establishment of national

They must be supported by government, because the school-master who is
dependent upon the parents of children committed to his charge,
necessarily caters to them. In schools for the upper classes, where the
number of pupils is small and select, he spends his energies in giving
them a show of knowledge wherewith they may startle friends and relations
into admiration of his superior system. In common schools, where the
charges are small, he is forced, in order to support himself, to multiply
the number of pupils until it is impossible for him to do any one of
them justice. But if education were a national affair, school-masters
would be responsible to a board of directors, whose interest would be
given to the boys collectively and not individually, while the number of
pupils to be received would be strictly regulated.

To perfect national schools the sexes must be educated together. By this
means only can they be prepared for their after relations to each other,
women thus becoming enlightened citizens and rational companions for men.
The experiment of co-education is at all events worth making. Even should
it fail, women would not be injured thereby, "for it is not in the power
of man to render them more insignificant than they are at present."

Mary is very practical in this branch of her subject, and suggests an
admirable educational scheme. In her levelling of rank among the young,
she shows the influence of Plato; in her hint as to the possibility of
uniting play and study in elementary education, she anticipates Froebel.
Her ideas can be best appreciated by giving them in her own words:--

     "To render this [that is, co-education] practicable, day-schools
     for particular ages should be established by government, in which
     boys and girls might be educated together. The school for the
     younger children, from five to nine years of age, ought to be
     absolutely free and open to all classes. A sufficient number of
     masters should also be chosen by a select committee, in each
     parish, to whom any complaint of negligence, etc., might be made,
     if signed by six of the children's parents.

     "Ushers would then be unnecessary: for I believe experience will
     ever prove that this kind of subordinate authority is particularly
     injurious to the morals of youth....

     "But nothing of this kind [that is, amusement at the expense of
     ushers] would occur in an elementary day-school, where boys and
     girls, the rich and poor, should meet together. And to prevent any
     of the distinctions of vanity, they should be dressed alike, and
     all obliged to submit to the same discipline, or leave the school.
     The schoolroom ought to be surrounded by a large piece of ground,
     in which the children might be usefully exercised, for at this age
     they should not be confined to any sedentary employment for more
     than an hour at a time. But these relaxations might all be rendered
     a part of elementary education, for many things improve and amuse
     the senses when introduced as a kind of show, to the principles of
     which, dryly laid down, children would turn a deaf ear. For
     instance, botany, mechanics, and astronomy, reading, writing,
     arithmetic, natural history, and some simple experiments in natural
     philosophy, might fill up the day; but these pursuits should never
     encroach on gymnastic plays in the open air. The elements of
     religion, history, the history of man, and politics might also be
     taught by conversations in Socratic form.

     "After the age of nine, girls and boys intended for domestic
     employments or mechanical trades ought to be removed to other
     schools, and receive instruction in some measure appropriated to
     the destination of each individual, the two sexes being still
     together in the morning; but in the afternoon the girls should
     attend a school where plain work, mantua-making, millinery, etc.,
     would be their employment.

     "The young people of superior abilities or fortune might now be
     taught, in another school, the dead and living languages, the
     elements of society, and continue the study of history and politics
     on a more extensive scale, which would not exclude polite
     literature. 'Girls and boys still together?' I hear some readers
     ask. Yes; and I should not fear any other consequence than that
     some early attachment might take place....

     "Besides, this would be a sure way to promote early marriages, and
     from early marriages the most salutary physical and moral effects
     naturally flow....

     "... Those (youths) who were designed for particular professions
     might attend, three or four mornings in the week, the schools
     appropriated for their immediate instruction....

     "My observations on national education are obviously hints; but I
     principally wish to enforce the necessity of educating the sexes
     together to perfect both, and of making children sleep at home,
     that they may learn to love home; yet to make private ties support,
     instead of smothering, public affections, they should be sent to
     school to mix with a number of equals, for only by the jostlings of
     equality can we form a just opinion of ourselves....

     "... The conclusion which I wish to draw is obvious: make women
     rational creatures and free citizens, and they will quickly become
     good wives and mothers; that is, if men do not neglect the duties
     of husbands and fathers."

This is no place to enter into a discussion as to whether Mary
Wollstonecraft's theories were right or wrong. National education and
co-education are still subjects of controversy. But even those who object
most strongly to her conclusions must admit that they were the logical
results of her premises. Equality! was her battle-cry. All men and women
are equal inasmuch as they are human. Her scheme is the only possible one
by which this fundamental equality can be maintained. It covers the whole
ground, too, by its recognition of the secondary distinctions of rank and
sex, and the necessary division of labor. Mary was not a communist in her
social philosophy. She knew such differences must always exist, and she
allowed for them.

In the remaining chapter she cites instances of folly generated by
women's ignorance, and makes reflections upon the probable improvement to
be produced by a revolution in female manners. Some of the evils with
which she deals are trifling, as, for example, the prevailing mania for
mesmerism and fortune-telling. Others are serious, as, for instance, the
incapacity of ignorant women to rear children. But all which are of real
weight have already been more than amply discussed. She here merely
repeats herself, and these last pages are of little or no consequence.

A plainness of speech, amounting in some places to coarseness, and a
deeply religious tone, are to many modern readers the most curious
features of the book. A just estimate of it could not be formed if these
two facts were overlooked. A century ago men and women were much more
straightforward in their speech than we are to-day. They were not
squeamish. In real life Amelias listened to raillery from Squire Westerns
not a whit more refined than Fielding's good country gentlemen.
Therefore, when it came to serious discussions for moral purposes, there
was little reason for writers to be timid. It was impossible for Mary to
avoid certain subjects not usually spoken of in polite conversation. Had
she done so, she would but have half stated her case. She was not to be
deterred because she was a woman. Such mock-modesty would at once have
undermined her arguments. According to her own theories, there was no
reason why she should not think and speak as unhesitatingly as men, when
her sex was as vitally interested as theirs. And therefore, with her
characteristic consistency, she did so. But while her language may seem
coarse to our over-fastidious ears, it never becomes prurient or
indecent. In her Dedication she expresses very distinctly her disgust for
the absence of modesty among contemporary Frenchwomen. Hers is the
plain-speaking of the Jewish law-giver, who has for end the good of man;
and not that of an Aretino, who rejoices in it for its own sake.

Even more remarkable than this boldness of expression is the strong vein
of piety running through her arguments. Religion was to her as important
as it was to a Wesley or a Bishop Watts. The equality of man, in her
eyes, would have been of small importance had it not been instituted by
man's Creator. It is because there is a God, and because the soul is
immortal, that men and women must exercise their reason. Otherwise, they
might, like animals, yield to the rule of their instincts and emotions.
If women were without souls, they would, notwithstanding their
intellects, have no rights to vindicate. If the Christian heaven were
like the Mahometan paradise, then they might indeed be looked upon as
slaves and playthings of beings who are worthy of a future life, and
hence are infinitely their superiors. But, though sincerely pious, she
despised the meaningless forms of religion as much as she did social
conventionalities, and was as free in denouncing them. The clergy, who
from custom cling to old rites and ceremonies, were, in her opinion,
"indolent slugs, who guard, by liming it over, the snug place which they
consider in the light of an hereditary estate," and "idle vermin who two
or three times a day perform, in the most slovenly manner, a service
which they think useless, but call their duty." She believed in the
spirit, but not in the letter of the law. The scriptural account of the
creation is for her "Moses' poetical story," and she supposes that very
few who have thought seriously upon the subject believe that Eve was,
"literally speaking, one of Adam's ribs." She is indignant at the
blasphemy of sectarians who teach that an all-merciful God has instituted
eternal punishment, and she is impatient of the debtor and creditor
system which was then the inspiration of the religion of the people. She
believes in God as the life of the universe, and she accepts neither the
theory of man's innate wickedness nor that of his natural perfection, the
two then most generally adopted, but advocates his power of

     "Rousseau exerts himself to prove that all _was_ right originally;
     a crowd of authors that all _is_ now right; and I, that all _will
     be_ right."

She, in fact, teaches the doctrine of evolution. But where its modern
upholders refer all things to an unknowable source, she builds her belief
"on the perfectibility of God."

Even the warmest admirers of Mary Wollstonecraft must admit that the
faults of the "Vindication of the Rights of Women" are many. Criticised
from a literary stand-point, they exceed its merits. Perfection of style
was not, it is true, the aim of the writer, as she at once explains in
her Introduction. She there says, that being animated by a far greater
end than that of fine writing,--

     "... I shall disdain to cull my phrases or polish my style. I aim
     at being useful, and sincerity will render me unaffected; for
     wishing rather to persuade by the force of my arguments than to
     dazzle by the elegance of my language, I shall not waste my time in
     rounding periods, nor in fabricating the turgid bombast of
     artificial feelings, which, coming from the head, never reach the
     heart. I shall be employed about things, not words! and, anxious to
     render my sex more respectable members of society, I shall try to
     avoid that flowery diction which has slided from essays into
     novels, and from novels into familiar letters and conversation."

Yet she errs principally from the fault she determines to avoid, as the
very sentence in which she announces this determination proves. Despite
her sincerity, she is affected, and her arguments are often weakened by
meretricious forms of expression. No one can for a moment doubt that her
feelings are real, but neither can the turgidity and bombast of her
language be denied. She borrows, unconsciously perhaps, the "flowery
diction" which she so heartily condemns. Her style, instead of being
clear and simple, as would have best suited her subject, is disfigured by
the euphuism which was the fashion among writers of the last century.
When she is enthusiastic, her pen "darts rapidly along" and her "heart
bounds;" if she grows indignant at Rousseau's ideal of feminine
perfection, "the rigid frown of insulted virtue effaces the smile of
complacency which his eloquent periods are wont to raise, when I read his
voluptuous reveries." When she wants to prove that men of genius, as a
rule, have good constitutions, she says:--

     "... Considering the thoughtless manner in which they lavished
     their strength when, investigating a favorite science, they have
     wasted the lamp of life, forgetful of the midnight hour, or when,
     lost in poetic dreams, fancy has peopled the scene, and the soul
     has been disturbed, till it shook the constitution by the passions
     that meditation had raised, whose objects, the baseless fabric of a
     vision, faded before the exhausted eye, they must have had iron

In her praise of the virtue of modesty, she exclaims:

     "... It is the pale moon-beam that renders more interesting every
     virtue it softens, giving mild grandeur to the contracted horizon.
     Nothing can be more beautiful than the poetical fiction which makes
     Diana, with her silver crescent, the goddess of chastity. I have
     sometimes thought that, wandering in sedate step in some lonely
     recess, a modest dame of antiquity must have felt a glow of
     conscious dignity, when, after contemplating the soft, shadowy
     landscape, she has invited with placid fervor the mild reflection
     of her sister's beams to turn to her chaste bosom."

She is too ready to moralize, and her moralizing degenerates
unfortunately often into commonplace platitudes. She is even at times
disagreeably pompous and authoritative, and preaches rather than argues.
This was due partly to a then prevailing tendency in literature. Every
writer--essayist, poet, and novelist--preached in those days. Mary
frequently forgets she has a cause to prove in her desire to teach a
lesson. She exhorts her sisters as a minister might appeal to his
brethren, and this resemblance is made still more striking by the
oratorical flights or prayers with which she interrupts her argument to
address her Creator. Moreover, the book is throughout, as Leslie Stephen
says, "rhetorical rather than speculative." It is unmistakably the
creation of a zealous partisan, and not of a calm advocate. It reads
more like an extempore declamation than a deliberately written essay.
Godwin says, as if in praise, that it was begun and finished within six
weeks. It would have been better had the same number of months or years
been devoted to it. Because of the lack of all method it is so full of
repetition that the argument is weakened rather than strengthened. She is
so certain of the truth of abstract principles from which she reasons,
that she does not trouble herself to convince the sceptical by concrete
proofs. Owing to this want of system, the "Vindication" has little value
as a philosophical work. Women to-day, with none of her genius, have
written on the same subject books which exert greater influence than
hers, because they have appreciated the importance of a definite plan.

Great as are these faults, they are more than counterbalanced by the
merits of the book. All the flowers of rhetoric cannot conceal its
genuineness. As is always the case with the work of honest writers, it
commands respect even from those who disapprove of its doctrine and
criticise its style. Despite its moralizing it is strong with the
strength born of an earnest purpose. It was written neither for money nor
for amusement, too often the inspiration to book-making. The one she had
not time to seek; the other she could have obtained with more certainty
by translating for Mr. Johnson, or by contributing to the "Analytical
Review." She wrote it because she thought it her duty to do so, and hence
its vigor and eloquence. All her pompous platitudes cannot conceal the
earnestness of her denunciation of shams. The "Rights of Women" is an
outcry against them. The age was an artificial one. Ladies played at
being shepherdesses, and men wept over dead donkeys. Sensibility was a
cultivated virtue, and philanthropy a pastime. Women were the
arch-sufferers from this evil; but, pleased at being likened unto angels,
they failed to see that the ideal set up for them was false. It is to
Mary's glory that she could penetrate the mists of prevailing prejudices
and see the clear unadulterated truth. The excess of sentimentalism had
given rise to the other extreme of naturalism. In France the reaction
against arbitrary laws, empty forms, and the unjust privileges of rank,
led to the French Revolution. In England its outcome was a Wesley in
religious speculation, a Wilkes in political action, and a Godwin and a
Paine in social and political theorizing. But those who were most eager
to uphold reason as a guide to the conduct of men, had nothing to say in
behalf of women. Even the reformers, by ignoring their cause, seemed to
look upon them as beings belonging to another world. Day, in his
"Sandford and Merton," was the only man in the least practical where the
weaker sex was concerned. Mary knew that no reform would be complete
which did not recognize the fact that what is law and truth for man must
be so for women also. She carried the arguments for human equality to
their logical conclusion. Her theories are to the philosophy of the
Revolutionists what modern rationalism is to the doctrine of the right of
private judgment. She saw the evil to which greater philosophers than she
had been indifferent. The same contempt for conventional standards which
characterized her actions inspired her thoughts. Once she had evolved
this belief, she felt the necessity of proclaiming it to the world at
large; and herein consists her greatness. "To believe your own thought,"
Emerson says, "to believe that what is true for you in your private heart
is true for all men,--that is genius." The "Vindication of the Rights of
Women" will always live because it is the work of inspiration, the words
of one who speaketh with authority.

Furthermore, another and very great merit of the book is that the ideas
expressed in it are full of common sense, and eminently practical. Mary's
educational theories, far in advance of her time, are now being to a
great extent realized. The number of successful women physicians show how
right she was in supposing medicine to be a profession to which they are
well suited. The ability which a few women have manifested as school
directors and in other minor official positions confirms her belief in
the good to be accomplished by giving them a voice in social and
political matters. But what is especially to her credit is her
moderation. Apostles of a new cause or teachers of a new doctrine are, as
a rule, enthusiasts or extremists who lose all sense of the fitness of
things. A Diogenes, to express his contempt for human nature, must needs
live in a tub. A Fox knows no escape from the shams of society, save
flight to the woods and an exchange of linen and cloth covering for a
suit of leather. But Mary's enthusiasm did not make her blind; she knew
that women were wronged by the existing state of affairs; but she did not
for this reason believe that they must be removed to a new sphere of
action. She defended their rights, not to unfit them for duties assigned
them by natural and social necessities, but that they might fulfil them
the better. She eloquently denied their inferiority to men, not that they
might claim superiority, but simply that they might show themselves to be
the equals of the other sex. Woman was to fight for her liberty that she
might in deed and in truth be worthy to have her children and her husband
rise up and call her blessed!




The "Vindication of the Rights of Women" made Mary still more generally
known. Its fame spread far and wide, not only at home but abroad, where
it was translated into German and French. Like Paine's "Rights of Man,"
or Malthus' "Essay on the Theory of Population," it advanced new
doctrines which threatened to overturn existing social relations, and it
consequently struck men with fear and wonder, and evoked more censure
than praise. To-day, after many years' agitation, the question of women's
rights still creates contention. The excitement caused by the first word
in its favor may, therefore, be easily imagined. If one of the bondsmen
helping to drag stones for the pyramids, or one of the many thousand
slaves in Athens, had claimed independence, Egyptians or Greeks could not
have been more surprised than Englishmen were at a woman's assertion
that, mentally, she was man's equal. Some were disgusted with such a bold
breaking of conventional chains; a few were startled into admiration.
Much of the public amazement was due not only to the principles of the
book, but to its warmth and earnestness. As Miss Thackeray says, the
English authoresses of those days "kept their readers carefully at pen's
length, and seemed for the most part to be so conscious of their
surprising achievement in the way of literature, as never to forget for a
single minute that they were in print." But here was a woman who wrote
eloquently from her heart, who told people boldly what she thought upon
subjects of which her sex, as a rule, pretended to know nothing, and who
forgot herself in her interest in her work. It was natural that curiosity
was felt as to what manner of being she was, and that curiosity changed
into surprise when, instead of the virago expected, she was found to be,
to use Godwin's words, "lovely in her person, and, in the best and most
engaging sense, feminine in her manners." The fable was in this case
reversed. It was the sheep who had appeared in wolf's clothing.

In her own circle of friends and acquaintances she was lionized. Some of
her readers were converted into enthusiasts. One of these--a Mr. John
Henry Colls--a few years later addressed a poem to her. However, his
admiration unfortunately did not teach him justly to appreciate its
object, nor to write good poetry, and his verses have been deservedly
forgotten. The reputation she had won by her answer to Burke was now
firmly established. She was respected as an independent thinker and a
bold dealer with social problems. The "Analytical Review" praised her in
a long and leading criticism.

     "The lesser wits," her critic writes, "will probably affect to make
     themselves merry at the title and apparent object of this
     publication; but we have no doubt, if even her contemporaries
     should fail to do her justice, posterity will compensate the
     defect; and have no hesitation in declaring that if the bulk of
     the great truths which this publication contains were reduced to
     practice, the nation would be better, wiser, and happier than it is
     upon the wretched, trifling, useless, and absurd system of
     education which is now prevalent."

But the conservative avoided her and her book as moral plagues. Many
people would not even look at what she had written. Satisfied with the
old-fashioned way of treating the subjects therein discussed, they would
not run the risk of finding out that they were wrong. Their attitude in
this respect was much the same as that of Cowper when he refused to read
Paine's "Rights of Man." "No man," he said, "shall convince me that I am
improperly governed, while I feel the contrary."

Women then, even the cleverest and most liberal, bowed to the decrees of
custom with a submission as servile as that of the Hindu to the laws of
caste. Like the latter, they were contented with their lot and had no
desire to change it. They dreaded the increase of knowledge which would
bring with it greater sorrow. Mrs. Barbauld, eloquent in her defence of
men's rights, could conceive no higher aim for women than the attainment
of sufficient knowledge to make them _agreeable_ companions to their
husbands and brothers. Should there be any deviation from the methods of
education which insured this end, they would, she feared, become like the
_Précieuses_ or _Femmes Savantes_ of Molière. Mary's vigorous appeal for
improvement could, therefore, have no meaning for her. Hannah More,
enthusiastic in her denunciations of slavery, but unconscious that her
liberty was in the least restricted, did not hesitate to form an opinion
of the "Rights of Women" without examining it, thus necessarily missing
its true significance. In this she doubtless represented a large majority
of her sex. She wrote to Horace Walpole in 1793:--

     "I have been much pestered to read the 'Rights of Women,' but am
     invincibly resolved not to do it. Of all jargon, I hate
     metaphysical jargon; beside, there is something fantastic and
     absurd in the very title. How many ways there are of being
     ridiculous! I am sure I have as much liberty as I can make a good
     use of, now I am an old maid; and when I was a young one I had, I
     dare say, more than was good for me. If I were still young, perhaps
     I should not make this confession; but so many women are fond of
     government, I suppose, because they are not fit for it. To be
     unstable and capricious, I really think, is but too characteristic
     of our sex; and there is, perhaps, no animal so much indebted to
     subordination for its good behavior as woman. I have soberly and
     uniformly maintained this doctrine ever since I have been capable
     of observation, and I used horridly to provoke some of my female
     friends--_maîtresses femmes_--by it, especially such heroic spirits
     as poor Mrs. Walsingham."

Men, on the other hand, thought Mary was unsexing herself by her
arguments, which seemed to interfere with _their_ rights,--an
interference they could not brook. To the Tories the fact that she
sympathized with the Reformers was enough to damn her. Walpole, when he
answered the letter from which the above extract is taken, wrote with

     "... It is better to thank Providence for the tranquillity and
     happiness we enjoy in this country, in spite of the philosophizing
     serpents we have in our bosom, the Paines, the Tookes, and the
     Wollstonecrafts. I am glad you have not read the tract of the
     last-mentioned writer. I would not look at it, though assured it
     contains neither metaphysics nor politics; but as she entered the
     lists of the latter, and borrowed her title from the demon's book
     which aimed at spreading the _wrongs_ of men, she is excommunicated
     from the pale of my library. We have had enough of new systems, and
     the world a great deal too much already."

Walpole may be accepted as the typical Tory, and to all his party Mary
probably appeared as the "philosophizing serpent." She seems always to
have incurred his deepest scorn and wrath. He could not speak of her
without calling her names. A year or two later, when she had published
her book on the French Revolution, writing again to Hannah More, he thus
concludes his letter:--

     "Adieu, thou excellent woman! thou reverse of that hyena in
     petticoats, Mrs. Wollstonecraft, who to this day discharges her ink
     and gall on Marie Antoinette, whose unparalleled sufferings have
     not yet stanched that Alecto's blazing ferocity."

There was at least one man in London whose opinion was worth having who,
it is known, treated the book with indifference, and he, by a strange
caprice of fate, was William Godwin. It was at this time, when she was in
the fulness of her fame, that Mary first met him. She was dining at
Johnson's with Paine and Shovet, and Godwin had come purposely to meet
the American philosopher and to hear him talk. But Paine was at best a
silent man; and Mary, it seems, monopolized the conversation. Godwin was
disappointed, and consequently the impression she made upon him was not
pleasing. He afterwards wrote an account of this first meeting, which is
interesting because of the closer relationship to which an acquaintance
so unpropitiously begun was to lead.

     "The interview was not fortunate," he says. "Mary and myself parted
     mutually displeased with each other. I had not read her 'Rights of
     Women.' I had barely looked into her answer to Burke, and been
     displeased, as literary men are apt to be, with a few offences
     against grammar and other minute points of composition. I had
     therefore little curiosity to see Mrs. Wollstonecraft, and a very
     great curiosity to see Thomas Paine. Paine, in his general habits,
     is no great talker; and, though he threw in occasionally some
     shrewd and striking remarks, the conversation lay principally
     between me and Mary. I, of consequence, heard her very frequently
     when I wished to hear Paine.

     "We touched on a considerable variety of topics and particularly on
     the character and habits of certain eminent men. Mary, as has
     already been observed, had acquired, in a very blamable degree, the
     practice of seeing everything on the gloomy side, and bestowing
     censure with a plentiful hand, where circumstances were in any
     degree doubtful. I, on the contrary, had a strong propensity to
     favorable construction, and, particularly where I found unequivocal
     marks of genius, strongly to incline to the supposition of generous
     and manly virtue. We ventilated in this way the character of
     Voltaire and others, who have obtained from some individuals an
     ardent admiration, while the greater number have treated them with
     extreme moral severity. Mary was at last provoked to tell me that
     praise, lavished in the way that I lavished it, could do no credit
     either to the commended or the commender. We discussed some
     questions on the subject of religion, in which her opinions
     approached much nearer to the received ones than mine. As the
     conversation proceeded, I became dissatisfied with the tone of my
     own share in it. We touched upon all topics without treating
     forcibly and connectedly upon any. Meanwhile, I did her the
     justice, in giving an account of the conversation to a party in
     which I supped, though I was not sparing of my blame, to yield her
     the praise of a person of active and independent thinking. On her
     side, she did me no part of what perhaps I considered as justice.

     "We met two or three times in the course of the following year, but
     made a very small degree of progress towards a cordial

Not until Mary had lived through the tragedy of her life were they
destined to become more to each other than mere fellow mortals. There was
much to be learned, and much to be forgotten, before the time came for
her to give herself into his keeping.

Her family were naturally interested in her book from personal motives;
but Eliza and Everina heartily disapproved of it, and their feelings for
their eldest sister became, from this period, less and less friendly.
However, as Kegan Paul says, their small spite points to envy and
jealousy rather than to honest indignation.

Both were now in good situations. Mary felt free, therefore, to consider
her own comforts a little. Besides, she had attained a position which it
became her to sustain with dignity. She was now known as _Mrs._
Wollstonecraft, and was a prominent figure in the literary world. Shortly
after the publication of the "Rights of Women" she moved from the modest
lodgings on George Street, to larger, finer rooms on Store Street,
Bedford Square, and these she furnished comfortably. Necessity was no
longer her only standard. She also gave more care to her dress. Her stern
apprenticeship was over. She had so successfully trampled upon the
thorns in her path that she could pause to enjoy the flowers. To modern
readers her new furniture and gowns are welcome signs of the awakening of
the springtime in her cold and wintry life. But her sisters resented
them, particularly because, while they, needing less, received less from
her bounty, Charles, waiting for a good opening in America, was living at
her expense. He, with thoughtless ingratitude, sent them semi-satirical
accounts of her new mode of living, and thus unconsciously kindled their
jealousy into a fierce flame. When the extent of Mary's kindness and
self-sacrifice in their regard is remembered, the petty ill-nature of
brother and sisters, as expressed in the following letter from Mrs.
Bishop to Everina, is unpardonable:--

       UPTON CASTLE, July 3, 1792.

     ... He [Charles] informs me too that _Mrs. Wollstonecraft_ is grown
     quite handsome; he adds likewise that, being conscious she is on
     the wrong side of thirty, she now endeavors to set off those charms
     she once despised, to the best advantage. This, _entre nous_, for
     he is delighted with her affection and kindness to him.

     So the author of "The Rights of Women" is going to France! I dare
     say her chief motive is to promote poor Bess's comfort, or thine,
     my girl, or at least I think she will so reason. Well, in spite of
     reason, when Mrs. W. reaches the Continent she will be but a woman!
     I cannot help painting her in the height of all her wishes, at the
     very summit of happiness, for will not ambition fill every chink of
     her great soul (for such I really think hers) that is not occupied
     by love? After having drawn this sketch, you can hardly suppose me
     so sanguine as to expect my pretty face will be thought of when
     matters of State are in agitation, yet I know you think such a
     miracle not impossible. I wish I could think it at all probable,
     but, alas! it has so much the appearance of castle-building that I
     think it will soon disappear like the "baseless fabric of a vision,
     and leave not a wrack behind."

     And you actually have the vanity to imagine that in the National
     Assembly, personages like M. and F.[useli] will bestow a thought on
     two females whom nature meant to "suckle fools and chronicle small

But a few days before Mary had written to Everina to discuss with her a
matter relative to Mrs. Bishop's prospects. This letter explains the
allusions of the latter to Mary's proposed trip to France, and shows how
little reason she had for her ill-natured conclusions:--

       LONDON, June 20, 1792.

     ... I have been considering what you say respecting Eliza's
     residence in France. For some time past Mr. and Mrs. Fuseli, Mr.
     Johnson, and myself have talked of a summer excursion to Paris; it
     is now determined on, and we think of going in about six weeks. I
     shall be introduced to many people. My book has been translated,
     and praised in some popular prints, and Mr. Fuseli of course is
     well known; it is then very probable that I shall hear of some
     situation for Eliza, and I shall be on the watch. We intend to be
     absent only six weeks; if then I fix on an eligible situation for
     her she may avoid the Welsh winter. This journey will not lead me
     into any extraordinary expense, or I should put it off to a more
     convenient season, for I am not, as you may suppose, very flush of
     money, and Charles is wearing out the clothes which were provided
     for his voyage. Still, I am glad he has acquired a little practical
     knowledge of farming....

The French trip was, however, put off until the following December; and
when the time came for her departure, neither Mr. Johnson nor the
Fuselis accompanied her. Since the disaffection of the latter has been
construed in a way which reflects upon her character, it is necessary to
pause here to consider the nature of the friendship which existed between
them. The slightest shadow unfairly cast upon her reputation must be

Mary valued Fuseli as one of her dearest friends. He, like her, was an
enthusiast. He was a warm partisan of justice and a rebel against
established institutions. He would take any steps to see that the rights
of the individual were respected. His interference in a case where men in
subordinate positions were defrauded by those in authority, but which did
not affect him personally, was the cause of his being compelled to leave
Zurich, his home, and thus eventually of his coming to England. Besides
their unity of thought and feeling, their work often lay in the same
direction. Fuseli, as well as Mary, translated for Johnson, and
contributed to the "Analytical Review." He was an intimate friend of
Lavater, whose work on Physiognomy Mary had translated with the liveliest
interest. There was thus a strong bond of sympathy between them, and many
ways in which they could help and consult with each other in their
literary tasks. Mary was devoid of the coquetry which is so strong with
some women that they carry it even into their friendships. She never
attempted to conceal her liking for Fuseli. His sex was no drawback. Why
should it be? It had not interfered with her warm feelings for George
Blood and Mr. Johnson. She was the last person in the world to be
deterred from what she thought was right for the sake of appearances.

However, another construction was given to her friendly demonstrations.
The story told both by Knowles, the biographer of Fuseli, and by Godwin,
is that Mary was in love with the artist; and that the necessity of
suppressing, even if she could not destroy, her passion--hopeless since
its object was a married man--was the immediate reason of her going to
France alone. But they interpret the circumstances very differently. The
incidents, as given by Godwin, are in nowise to Mary's discredit, though
his account of them was later twisted and distorted by Dr. Beloe in his
"Sexagenarian." The latter, however, is so prejudiced a writer that his
words have but little value. Godwin, in his Memoirs, after demonstrating
the strength of the intimacy between Mary and Fuseli, says:--

     "Notwithstanding the inequality of their years, Mary was not of a
     temper to live upon terms of so much intimacy with a man of merit
     and genius without loving him. The delight she enjoyed in his
     society, she transferred by association to his person. What she
     experienced in this respect was no doubt heightened by the state of
     celibacy and restraint in which she had hitherto lived, and to
     which the rules of polished society condemn an unmarried woman. She
     conceived a personal and ardent affection for him. Mr. Fuseli was a
     married man, and his wife the acquaintance of Mary. She readily
     perceived the restrictions which this circumstance seemed to impose
     upon her; but she made light of any difficulty that might arise out
     of them. Not that she was insensible to the value of domestic
     endearments between persons of an opposite sex, but that she
     scorned to suppose that she could feel a struggle in conforming to
     the laws she should lay down to her conduct.

     "... There is no reason to doubt that if Mr. Fuseli had been
     disengaged at the period of their acquaintance, he would have been
     the man of her choice.

     "... One of her principal inducements to this step, [her visit to
     France] related, I believe, to Mr. Fuseli. She had at first
     considered it as reasonable and judicious to cultivate what I may
     be permitted to call a platonic affection for him; but she did not,
     in the sequel, find all the satisfaction in this plan which she had
     originally expected from it. It was in vain that she enjoyed much
     pleasure in his society, and that she enjoyed it frequently. Her
     ardent imagination was continually conjuring up pictures of the
     happiness she should have found if fortune had favored their more
     intimate union. She felt herself formed for domestic affection, and
     all those tender charities which men of sensibility have constantly
     treated as the dearest bond of human society. General conversation
     and society could not satisfy her. She felt herself alone, as it
     were, in the great mass of her species, and she repined when she
     reflected that the best years of her life were spent in this
     comfortless solitude. These ideas made the cordial intercourse of
     Mr. Fuseli, which had at first been one of her greatest pleasures,
     a source of perpetual torment to her. She conceived it necessary to
     snap the chain of this association in her mind; and, for that
     purpose, determined to seek a new climate, and mingle in different

Knowles, on the other hand, represents her as importunate with her love
as a Phaedra, as consumed with passion as a Faustina. He states as a fact
that it was for Fuseli's sake that she changed her mode of life and
adopted a new elegance in dress and manners. He declares that when the
latter made no return to her advances, she pursued him so persistently
that on receiving her letters, he thrust them unopened out of sight, so
sure was he that they contained nothing but protestations of regard and
complaints of neglect; that, finally, she became so ill and miserable and
unfitted for work that, despite Fuseli's arguments against such a step,
she went boldly to Mrs. Fuseli and asked to be admitted into her house as
a member of the family, declaring that she could not live without daily
seeing the man she loved; and that, thereupon, Mrs. Fuseli grew
righteously wrathful and forbade her ever to cross her threshold again.
He furthermore affirms that she considered her love for Fuseli strictly
within the bounds of modesty and reason, that she encouraged it without
scruple, and that she made every effort to win his heart. These proving
futile, he concludes: "No resource was now left for Mrs. Wollstonecraft
but to fly from the object which she regarded; her determination was
instantly fixed; she wrote a letter to Fuseli, in which she begged pardon
'for having disturbed the quiet tenor of his life,' and on the 8th of
December left London for France."

An anonymous writer who in 1803 published a "Defence of the Character of
the Late Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin," repeats the story, but a little
more kindly, declaring that Mary's discovery of an unconsciously nurtured
passion for a married man, and her determination to flee temptation, were
the cause of her leaving England. That there was during her life-time
some idle gossip about her relations to Fuseli is shown in the references
to it in Eliza's ill-natured letter. This counts for little, however. It
was simply impossible for the woman who had written in defiance of social
laws and restrictions, to escape having scandals attached to her name.

Kegan Paul, Mary's able defender of modern times, denies the whole
story. He writes in his Prefatory Memoir to her "Letters to Imlay:"--

     "... Godwin knew extremely little of his wife's earlier life, nor
     was this a subject on which he had sought enlightenment from
     herself. I can only here say that I fail to find any confirmation
     whatever of this preposterous story, as told in Knowles's 'Life of
     Fuseli,' or in any other form, while I find much which makes
     directly against it, the strongest fact being that Mary remained to
     the end the correspondent and close friend of Mrs. Fuseli."

Her character is the best refutation of Knowles's charges. She was too
proud to demean herself to any man. She was too sensitive to slights to
risk the repulses he says she accepted. And since always before and after
this period she had nothing more at heart than the happiness of others,
it is not likely that she would have deliberately tried to step in
between Fuseli and his wife, and gain at the latter's expense her own
ends. She could not have changed her character in a day. She never played
fast and loose with her principles. These were in many ways contrary to
the standard of the rest of mankind, but they were also equally opposed
to the conduct imputed to her. The testimony of her actions is her
acquittal. That she did not for a year produce any work of importance is
no argument against her. It was only after three years of uninterrupted
industry that she found time to write the "Rights of Women." On account
of the urgency of her every-day needs, she had no leisure for work whose
financial success was uncertain. Knowles's story is too absurdly out of
keeping with her character to be believed for a moment.

The other version of this affair is not so inconceivable. That her
affection may in the end have developed into a warmer feeling, and that
she would have married Fuseli had he been free, is just possible.
Allusions in her first letters to Imlay to a late "hapless love," and to
trouble, seem to confirm Godwin's statement. But it is quite as likely
that Fuseli, whose heart was, as his biographer admits, very susceptible,
felt for her a passion which as a married man he had no right to give,
and that she fled to France for his sake rather than for her own. In
either of these cases, she would deserve admiration and respect. But the
insufficiency of evidence reduces everything except the fact of her
friendship for him to mere surmise.

However this may have been, it is certain that Mr. Johnson and the
Fuselis decided to remain at home when Mary in December started for

The excitement in the French capital was then at fever heat. But the
outside world hardly comprehended how serious the troubles were. Princes
and their adherents trembled at the blow given to royalty in the person
of Louis XVI. Liberals rejoiced at the successful revolt against
monarchical tyranny. But neither one party nor the other for a moment
foresaw what a terrible weapon reform was to become in the hands of the
excitable French people. If, in the city where the tragedy was being
enacted, the customary baking and brewing, the promenading under the
trees, and the dog-dancing and the shoe-blacking on the _Pont-Neuf_ could
still continue, it is not strange that those who watched it from afar
mistook its real weight.

The terrible night of the 10th of August had come and gone. The September
massacres, the details of which had not yet reached England, were over.
The Girondists were in the ascendency and had restored order. There were
fierce contentions in the National Convention, but, on the whole, its
attitude was one to inspire confidence. The English, who saw in the
arrest of the king, and in the popular feeling against him, just such a
crisis as their nation had passed through once or twice, were not
deterred from visiting the country by its unsettled state. The French
prejudice against England, it is true, was strong. Lafayette had some
time before publicly expressed his belief that she was secretly
conspiring against the peace of France. But his imputation had been
vigorously denied, and nominally the two governments were friendly.
English citizens had no reason to suppose they would not be safe in
Paris, and those among them whose opinions brought them _en rapport_ with
the French Republicans felt doubly secure. Consequently Mary's departure
for that capital, alone and unprotected, did not seem so hazardous then
as it does now that the true condition of affairs is better understood.

She knew in Paris a Madame Filiettaz, daughter of the Madame Bregantz at
whose school in Putney Eliza and Everina had been teachers, and to her
house she went, by invitation. Monsieur and Madame Filiettaz were absent,
and she was for some little time its sole occupant save the servants. The
object of her visit was twofold. She wished to study French, for though
she could read and translate this language fluently, from want of
practice she could neither speak nor understand it when it was spoken;
and she also desired to watch for herself the development of the cause of
freedom. Their love of liberty had made the French, as a nation,
peculiarly attractive to her. She had long since openly avowed her
sympathy by her indignant reply to Burke's outcry against them. It was
now a great satisfaction to be where she could follow day by day the
progress of their struggle. She had excellent opportunities not only to
see what was on the surface of society, which is all visitors to a
strange land can usually do, but to study the actual forces at work in
the movement. Thomas Paine was then in Paris. He was a member of the
National Convention, and was on terms of intimacy with Condorcet,
Brissot, Madame Roland, and other Republican leaders. Mary had known him
well in London. She now renewed the acquaintance, and was always welcomed
to his house near the Rue de Richelieu. Later, when, worn out by his
numerous visitors, he retired to the Faubourg St. Denis, to a hotel where
Madame de Pompadour had once lived, and allowed it to be generally
believed that he had gone into the country for his health, Mary was one
of the few favored friends who knew of his whereabouts. She thus, through
him, was brought into close contact with the leading spirits of the day.
She also saw much of Helen Maria Williams, the poetess, already notorious
for her extreme liberalism, and who had numerous friends and
acquaintances among the Revolutionary party in Paris. Mrs. Christie was
still another friend of this period. Her husband's business having kept
them in France, they had become thoroughly nationalized. At their house
many Americans congregated, among others a Captain Gilbert Imlay, of whom
more hereafter. In addition to these English friends, Mary had letters of
introduction to several prominent French citizens.

She arrived in Paris just before Louis XVI.'s trial. The city was
comparatively quiet, but there was in the air an oppression which
betokened the coming storm. She felt the people's suspense as if she too
had been personally interested. Between her studies and her efforts to
obtain the proper clew by which she could in her own mind reduce the
present political chaos to order, she found more than enough wherewith to
fill her days. As always happened with her, the mental strain reacted
upon her physical health, and her old enemies, depression of spirits and
headaches, returned to harass her.

She wrote to Everina on the 24th of December:

     To-morrow I expect to see Aline [Madame Filiettaz]. During her
     absence the servants endeavored to render the house, a most
     excellent one, comfortable to me; but as I wish to acquire the
     language as fast as I can, I was sorry to be obliged to remain so
     much alone. I apply so closely to the language, and labor so
     continually to understand what I hear, that I never go to bed
     without a headache, and my spirits are fatigued with endeavoring to
     form a just opinion of public affairs. The day after to-morrow I
     expect to see the King at the bar, and the consequences that will
     follow I am almost afraid to anticipate.

     I have seen very little of Paris, the streets are so dirty; and I
     wait till I can make myself understood before I call upon Madame
     Laurent, etc. Miss Williams has behaved very civilly to me, and I
     shall visit her frequently because I _rather_ like her, and I meet
     French company at her house. Her manners are affected, yet the
     simple goodness of her heart continually breaks through the
     varnish, so that one would be more inclined, at least I should, to
     love than admire her. Authorship is a heavy weight for female
     shoulders, especially in the sunshine of prosperity. Of the French
     I will not speak till I know more of them. They seem the people of
     all others for a stranger to come amongst, yet sometimes when I
     have given a commission, which was eagerly asked for, it has not
     been executed, and when I ask for an explanation,--I allude to the
     servant-maid, a quick girl, who, an't please you, has been a
     teacher in an English boarding-school,--dust is thrown up with a
     self-sufficient air, and I am obliged to appear to see her meaning
     clearly, though she puzzles herself, that I may not make her feel
     her ignorance; but you must have experienced the same thing. I will
     write to you soon again. Meantime, let me hear from you, and
     believe me yours sincerely and affectionately,

       M. W.

When the dreaded 26th came, there was no one in Paris more excited and
interested than Mary. From her window she saw the King as, seemingly
forgetting the history he was making for future historians to discuss, he
rode by with calm dignity to his trial. Throughout the entire day she
waited anxiously, uncertain as to what would be the effects of the
morning's proceedings. Then, when evening came, and all continued quiet
and the danger was over, she grew nervous and fearful, as she had that
other memorable night when she kept her vigil in the little room at
Hackney. She was absolutely alone with her thoughts, and it was a relief
to write to Mr. Johnson. It gave her a sense of companionship. This
"hyena in petticoats," this "philosophizing serpent," was at heart as
feminine as Hannah More or any other "excellent woman."

       PARIS, Dec. 26, 1792.

     I should immediately on the receipt of your letter, my dear friend,
     have thanked you for your punctuality, for it highly gratified me,
     had I not wished to wait till I could tell you that this day was
     not stained with blood. Indeed, the prudent precautions taken by
     the National Convention to prevent a tumult made me suppose that
     the dogs of faction would not dare to bark, much less to bite,
     however true to their scent; and I was not mistaken; for the
     citizens, who were all called out, are returning home with composed
     countenances, shouldering their arms. About nine o'clock this
     morning the King passed by my window, moving silently along,
     excepting now and then a few strokes on the drum which rendered the
     stillness more awful, through empty streets, surrounded by the
     National Guards, who, clustering round the carriage, seemed to
     deserve their name. The inhabitants flocked to their windows, but
     the casements were all shut; not a voice was heard, nor did I see
     anything like an insulting gesture. For the first time since I
     entered France I bowed to the majesty of the people, and respected
     the propriety of behavior, so perfectly in unison with my own
     feelings. I can scarcely tell you why, but an association of ideas
     made the tears flow insensibly from my eyes, when I saw Louis
     sitting, with more dignity than I expected from his character, in a
     hackney-coach, going to meet death where so many of his race have
     triumphed. My fancy instantly brought Louis XIV. before me,
     entering the capital with all his pomp, after one of the victories
     most flattering to his pride, only to see the sunshine of
     prosperity overshadowed by the sublime gloom of misery. I have been
     alone ever since; and though my mind is calm, I cannot dismiss the
     lively images that have filled my imagination all the day. Nay, do
     not smile, but pity me, for once or twice, lifting my eyes from the
     paper, I have seen eyes glare through a glass door opposite my
     chair, and bloody hands shook at me. Not the distant sound of a
     footstep can I hear. My apartments are remote from those of the
     servants, the only persons who sleep with me in an immense hotel,
     one folding-door opening after another. I wish I had even kept the
     cat with me! I want to see something alive, death in so many
     frightful shapes has taken hold of my fancy. I am going to bed, and
     for the first time in my life I cannot put out the candle.

       M. W.

These imaginary terrors gave way to real ones soon enough. The execution
of Louis was followed by the declaration of war between France and
England and the complete demoralization of the French people, especially
of the Parisians. The feeling against England grew daily more bitter, and
the position of English residents in Paris more precarious. It was next
to impossible for them to send letters home, and therefore their danger
was not realized by their countrymen on the other side of the Channel.
Mrs. Bishop, in the faraway Welsh castle, grew impatient at Mary's
silence. Politics was a subject dear to her heart, but one tabooed at
Upton. At her first word upon the topic the family, her employers, left
the room, and she was consequently obliged to ignore it when she was with
them. But when, some months later on, two or three French refugees came
to Pembroke, she was quick to go to them, ostensibly for French lessons,
but in reality to hear their accounts of the scenes through which they
had passed. Forced to live in quiet, remote places, she longed for the
excitement only to be had in the large centres of action, and at one
time, in her discontent, began to make plans to join her sister in
France. While Eliza was thus contemplating a journey to Paris, Mary was
wondering how it would be possible either to continue living there or to
leave the country. It was equally out of the question to obtain fresh
supplies of money from England or a passport to carry her safely back.
She had, when she left London, only intended to be absent for a few
weeks, and had not even given up her rooms in George Street. But the
weeks had lengthened into months, and now her return was an

For motives of economy she left the large Filiettaz mansion. At first she
thought of making a trip to Switzerland, but this plan had to be
abandoned because of the difficulty in procuring a passport. She
therefore went to Neuilly, where, her ready money wellnigh exhausted, she
lived as simply as she could. Economy was doubly necessary at a time when
heavy taxes were sending a hungry multitude into the streets, clamoring
for bread. She was now more alone than ever. Her sole attendant was an
old man, a gardener. He became her warm friend, succumbing completely to
her power of attraction. With the gallantry of his race he could not do
enough for Madame. He waited upon her with unremitting attention; he even
disputed for the honor of making her bed. He served up at her table,
unasked, the grapes from his garden which he absolutely refused to give
to her guests. He objected to her English independence; her lonely walks
through the woods of Neuilly met with his serious disapproval, and he
besought her to allow him the privilege of accompanying her, painting in
awful colors the robbers and other dangers with which the place abounded.
But Mary persisted in going alone; and when, evening after evening, she
returned unharmed, it must have seemed to him as if she bore a charmed
life. Such incidents as these show, better than volumes of praise, the
true kindliness of her nature which was not influenced by distinctions of

Those who knew her but by name, however, dealt with her in less gentle
fashion. Her fame had been carried even into Pembroke; and while she was
living her solitary and inoffensive life in Paris, Mrs. Bishop was
writing to Everina: "The conversation [at Upton Castle] turns on Murphy,
on Irish potatoes, or Tommy Paine, whose effigy they burnt at Pembroke
the other day. Nay, they talk of immortalizing Miss Wollstonecraft in
like manner, but all end in damning all politics: What good will they do
men? and what rights have men that three meals a day will not supply?"
After all, perhaps they were wise, these Welshmen. Were not their
brethren in France purchasing their rights literally at the price of
their three meals a day?

Sometimes, perhaps to please her friend, the gardener, instead of her
rambles through the woods, Mary walked towards and even into Paris, and
then she saw sights which made Pembroke logic seem true wisdom, and
freedom a farce. Once, in so doing, she passed by chance a place of
execution, just at the close of one of its too frequent tragic scenes.
The blood was still fresh upon the pavement; the crowd of lookers-on not
yet dispersed. She heard them as they stood there rehearsing the day's
horror, and she chafed against the cruelty and inhumanity of the deed. In
a moment--her French so improved that she could make herself
understood--she was telling the people near her something of what she
thought of their new tyrants. Those were dangerous times for freedom of
speech. So far the champions of liberty had proved themselves more
inexorable masters than the Bourbons. Some of the bystanders, who, though
they dared not speak their minds, sympathized with Mary's indignation,
warned her of her danger and hurried her away from the spot. Horror at
the ferocity of men's passions, wrath at injustices committed in the name
of freedom, and impatience at her own helplessness to right the evils by
which she was surrounded, no doubt inspired her, as saddened and sobered
she walked back alone to Neuilly.

During all this time she continued her literary work. She proposed to
write a series of letters upon the present character of the French
nation, and with this end in view she silently studied the people and the
course of political action. She was quick and observant, and nothing
escaped her notice. She came to Paris prepared to continue a firm
partisan of the French Revolution; but she could not be blind to the
national defects. She saw the frivolity and sensuality of the people,
their hunger for all things sweet, and the unrestrained passions of the
greater number of the Republican leaders, which made them love liberty
more than law itself. She valued their cause, but she despised the means
by which they sought to gain it. Thus, in laboring to grasp the meaning
of the movement, not as it appeared to petty factions, but as it was as a
whole, she was confronted by the greatest of all mysteries, the relation
of good and evil. Again, as when she had analyzed the rights of women,
she recognized evil to be a power which eventually works for
righteousness, thereby proving the clearness of her mental vision. Only
one of these letters, however, was written and published. It is dated
Feb. 15, 1793, so that the opinions therein expressed were not hastily
formed. As its style is that of a familiar letter, and as it gives a good
idea of the thoroughness with which she had applied herself to her task,
it may appropriately be quoted here.

     "... The whole mode of life here," she writes, "tends indeed to
     render the people frivolous, and, to borrow their favorite epithet,
     amiable. Ever on the wing, they are always sipping the sparkling
     joy on the brim of the cup, leaving satiety in the bottom for those
     who venture to drink deep. On all sides they trip along, buoyed up
     by animal spirits, and seemingly so void of care that often, when I
     am walking on the Boulevards, it occurs to me that they alone
     understand the full import of the term leisure; and they trifle
     their time away with such an air of contentment, I know not how to
     wish them wiser at the expense of gayety. They play before me like
     motes in a sunbeam, enjoying the passing ray; whilst an English
     head, searching for more solid happiness, loses in the analysis of
     pleasure the volatile sweets of the moment. Their chief enjoyment,
     it is true, rises from vanity; but it is not the vanity that
     engenders vexation of spirit: on the contrary, it lightens the
     heavy burden of life, which reason too often weighs, merely to
     shift from one shoulder to the other....

     "I would I could first inform you that out of the chaos of vices
     and follies, prejudices and virtues, rudely jumbled together, I saw
     the fair form of Liberty slowly rising, and Virtue, expanding her
     wings to shelter all her children! I should then hear the account
     of the barbarities that have rent the bosom of France patiently,
     and bless the firm hand that lopt off the rotten limbs. But if the
     aristocracy of birth is levelled with the ground, only to make
     room for that of riches, I am afraid that the morals of the people
     will not be much improved by the change, or the government rendered
     less venial. Still it is not just to dwell on the misery produced
     by the present struggle without adverting to the standing evils of
     the old system. I am grieved, sorely grieved, when I think of the
     blood that has stained the cause of freedom at Paris; but I also
     hear the same live stream cry aloud from the highways through which
     the retreating armies passed with famine and death in their rear,
     and I hide my face with awe before the inscrutable ways of
     Providence, sweeping in such various directions the besom of
     destruction over the sons of men.

     "Before I came to France, I cherished, you know, an opinion that
     strong virtues might exist with the polished manners produced by
     the progress of civilization; and I even anticipated the epoch,
     when, in the course of improvement, men would labor to become
     virtuous, without being goaded on by misery. But now the
     perspective of the golden age, fading before the attentive eye of
     observation, almost eludes my sight; and, losing thus in part my
     theory of a more perfect state, start not, my friend, if I bring
     forward an opinion which, at the first glance, seems to be levelled
     against the existence of God! I am not become an atheist, I assure
     you, by residing at Paris; yet I begin to fear that vice or, if you
     will, evil is the grand mobile of action, and that, when the
     passions are justly poised, we become harmless, and in the same
     proportion useless....

     "You may think it too soon to form an opinion of the future
     government, yet it is impossible to avoid hazarding some
     conjectures, when everything whispers me that names, not
     principles, are changed, and when I see that the turn of the tide
     has left the dregs of the old system to corrupt the new. For the
     same pride of office, the same desire of power, are still visible;
     with this aggravation, that, fearing to return to obscurity after
     having but just acquired a relish for distinction, each hero or
     philosopher, for all are dubbed with these new titles, endeavors to
     make hay while the sun shines; and every petty municipal officer,
     become the idol, or rather the tyrant of the day, stalks like a
     cock on a dunghill."

The letters were discontinued, probably because Mary thought
letter-writing too easy and familiar a style in which to treat so weighty
a subject. She only gave up the one work, however, to undertake another
still more ambitious. At Neuilly she began, and wrote almost all that was
ever finished, of her "Historical and Moral View of the French

While she was thus living the quiet life of a student in the midst of
excitement, her own affairs, as well as those of France, were hastening
to a crisis.




While Mary was living at Neuilly, the terrors of the French Revolution
growing daily greater, she took a step to which she was prompted by pure
motives, but which has left a blot upon her fair fame. The outcry raised
by her "Vindication of the Rights of Women" has ceased, since its
theories have found so many champions. But that which followed her
assertion of her individual rights has never yet been hushed. Kegan Paul
speaks the truth when he says, "The name of Mary Wollstonecraft has long
been a mark for obloquy and scorn." The least that can be done to clear
her memory of stains is to state impartially the facts of her case.

As has been said in the previous chapter, Mary often spent her free hours
with Mrs. Christie, and at her house she met Captain Gilbert Imlay. He
was one of the many Americans then living in Paris. He was an attractive
man personally, and his position and abilities entitled him to respect.
He had taken an active part in the American rebellion, having then risen
to the rank of captain, and, after the war, had been sent as commissioner
to survey still unsettled districts of the western States. On his return
from this work he wrote a monograph, called "A Topographical Description
of the Western Territory of North America," which is remarkable for its
thoroughness and its clear, condensed style, appropriate to such a
treatise. It passed through several editions and increased his
reputation. His business in France is not very explicitly explained. His
headquarters seem to have been at Havre, while he had certain commercial
relations with Norway and Sweden. He was most probably in the timber
business, and was, at least at this period, successful. Godwin says that
he had no property whatever, but his speculations apparently brought him
plenty of ready money.

Foreigners in Paris, especially Americans and English, were naturally
drawn together. Mary and Imlay had mutual acquaintances, and they saw
much of each other. His republican sentiments alone would have appealed
to her. But the better she learned to know him, the more she liked him
personally. He, on his side, was equally attracted, and his kindness and
consideration for her were greatly in his favor. Their affection in the
end developed into a feeling stronger than mere friendship. Its
consequence, since both were free, would under ordinary circumstances
have been marriage.

But her circumstances just then were extraordinary. Godwin says that she
objected to a marriage with Imlay because she did not wish to "involve
him in certain family embarrassments to which she conceived herself
exposed, or make him answerable for the pecuniary demands that existed
against her." There were, however, more formidable objections, not of her
own making. The English who remained in Paris ran the chance from day to
day of being arrested with the priests and aristocrats, and even of being
carried to the guillotine. Their only safeguard lay in obscurity. They
had above all else to evade the notice of government officers. Mary, if
she married Imlay, would be obliged to proclaim herself a British
subject, and would thus be risking imprisonment and perhaps death.
Besides, it was very doubtful whether a marriage ceremony performed by
the French authorities would be recognized in England as valid. Had she
been willing to pass through this perilous ordeal she would have gained
nothing. Love's labor would indeed have been lost. Marriage was thus out
of the question.

To Mary, however, this did not seem an insurmountable obstacle to their
union. "Her view had now become," Kegan Paul says, "that mutual affection
was marriage, and that the marriage tie should not bind after the death
of love, if love should die." In her "Vindication," she had upheld the
sanctity of marriage because she believed that the welfare of society
depends upon the order maintained in family relations. But her belief
also was that the form the law demands is nothing, the feeling which
leads those concerned to desire it, everything. What she had hitherto
seen of married life, as at present instituted, was not calculated to
make her think highly of it. Her mother and her friend's mother had led
the veriest dogs' lives because the law would not permit them to leave
brutal and sensual husbands, whom they had ceased to honor or love. Her
sister had been driven mad by the ill-treatment of a man to whom she was
bound by legal, but not by natural ties. Lady Kingsborough, giving to
dogs the love which neither her coarse husband nor her children by him
could evoke, was not a brilliant example of conjugal pleasure. Probably
in London other cases had come within her notice. Marriage vows, it
seemed, were with the majority but the convenient cloak of vice. Women
lived with their husbands that they might be more free to entertain their
lovers. Men lived with their wives that they might keep establishments
elsewhere for their mistresses. Love was the one unimportant element in
the marriage compact. The artificial tone of society had disgusted all
the more earnest thinkers of the day. The very extreme to which existing
evils were carried drove reformers to the other. Rousseau and Helvetius
clamored for a relapse into a state of nature without exactly knowing
what the realization of their theories would produce. Mary reasoned in
the same spirit as they did, and from no desire to uphold the doctrine of
free love. Fearless in her practice as in her theories, she did not
hesitate in this emergency to act in a way that seemed to her conscience
right. She loved Imlay honestly and sincerely. Because she loved him she
could not think evil of him, nor suppose for a moment that his passion
was not as pure and true as hers. Therefore she consented to live with
him as his wife, though no religious nor civil ceremony could sanction
their union.

That this, according to the world's standard, was wrong, is a fact beyond
dispute. But before the first stones are thrown, the _pros_ as well as
the _cons_ must be remembered. If Mary had held the conventional beliefs
as to the relations of the sexes, she would be judged by them. Had she
thought her connection with Imlay criminal, then she would be condemned
by her own conviction. But she did not think so. Moreover, her opinions
to the contrary were very decided. When she gave herself to Imlay without
waiting for a minister's blessing or a legal permit, she acted in strict
adherence to her moral ideals; and this at once places her in a far
different rank from that of the Mrs. Robinsons and Mrs. Jordans, with
whom men have been too ready to class her. Neither can she be compared to
a woman like George Sand, who also believed that love was a more sacred
bond of union than the marriage tie, and who acted accordingly. But to
George Sand, as masculine by nature as by dress, love was of her life a
thing apart, and a change of lovers a matter of secondary importance. To
Mary love was literally her whole existence, and fidelity a virtue to be
cultivated above all others. Since she in her conduct in this instance
stands alone, she can be justly judged by no other standard than her own.

Whether marriage does or does not represent the ideal relation which can
exist between a man and woman is without the compass of the present work.
But since it is and has been for ages held to be so, the woman who bids
defiance to this law must abide by the consequences. Custom has
inconsistently pardoned freedom in such matters to men, but never to
women. Mary Wollstonecraft might rely upon her friends and acquaintances
for recognition of her virtue, but she should have remembered that to the
world at large her conduct would appear immoral; that by it she would
become a pariah in society, and her work lose much of its efficacy; while
she would be giving to her children, if she had any, an inheritance of
shame that would cling to them forever.

She may probably have realized this drawback and determined to avoid the
evil consequences of her defiance to social usages. For the first few
months it seems that she kept her intimacy with Imlay secret, and she may
have intended concealing it until such time as she could make it legal in
the eyes of the world. Godwin dates its beginning in April, 1793. The
only information in this respect is to be had from her published letters
to Imlay, the first of which was written in June of the same year,
though, it must be added, Kegan Paul queries the date. This and the
following note, dated August, prove the secrecy she for a time
maintained. The latter seems to have been written after she had
determined to live openly with Imlay in Paris, but just before she
carried her determination into practice:--

       _Past Twelve o'clock, Monday night._

     I obey an emotion of my heart which made me think of wishing thee,
     my love, good-night! before I go to rest, with more tenderness than
     I can to-morrow, when writing a hasty line or two under Colonel
     ----'s eye. You can scarcely imagine with what pleasure I
     anticipate the day when we are to begin almost to live together;
     and you would smile to hear how many plans of employment I have in
     my head, now that I am confident my heart has found peace in your
     bosom. Cherish me with that dignified tenderness which I have only
     found in you, and your own dear girl will try to keep under a
     quickness of feeling that has sometimes given you pain. Yes, I will
     be _good_, that I may deserve to be happy; and whilst you love me,
     I cannot again fall into the miserable state which rendered life a
     burden almost too heavy to be borne.

     But good-night! God bless you! Sterne says that is equal to a
     kiss, yet I would rather give you the kiss into the bargain,
     glowing with gratitude to Heaven and affection to you. I like the
     word affection, because it signifies something habitual; and we are
     soon to meet, to try whether we have mind enough to keep our hearts

     I will be at the barrier a little after ten o'clock to-morrow.


The reason for this step was probably the fact that it was not safe for
her to continue in Paris alone and unprotected. The robbers in the woods
at Neuilly might be laughed at; but the red-capped _citoyens_ and
_citoyennes_, drunk from the first draught of aristocratic blood, were no
old man's dangers. The peril of the English in the city increased with
every new development of the struggle; but Americans were looked upon as
stanch brother citizens, and a man who had fought for the American
Republic was esteemed as the friend and honored guest of the French
Republic. As Imlay's wife, Mary's safety would therefore be assured. The
murderous greed of the people, to break out in September in the _Law of
the Suspect_, was already felt in August, and at the end of that month
she sought protection under Imlay's roof, and shielded herself by his

She could not at once judge of the manner in which this expedient would
be received. It was impossible to hold any communication with England.
For eighteen months after her letter to Mr. Johnson, not a word from her
reached her friends at home. As for those in Paris, so intense was the
great human tragedy of which they were the witnesses, that they probably
forgot to gossip about each other. The crimes and horrors that stared
them in the face were so appalling that desire to seek out imaginary ones
in their neighbors was lost. As far as can be known from Mary's letters,
her connection with Imlay did not take from her the position she had held
in the English colony. No door was closed against her; no scandal was
spread about her. The truth is, these people must have understood her
difficulties as well as she did. They knew the impossibility of a legal
ceremony and the importance in her case of an immediate union; and
understanding this, they seem to have considered her Imlay's wife. At
least the rumors which months afterwards came to her sisters treated her
marriage as a certainty. Charles Wollstonecraft, now settled in
Philadelphia, wrote on June 16, 1794, to Eliza, a year after Mary and
Imlay had begun their joint life: "I heard from Mary six months ago by a
gentleman who knew her at Paris, and since that have been informed she is
married to Captain Imlay of this country." The same report had found its
way to Mr. Johnson, and through him again to Mrs. Bishop. It was hard to
doubt its truth, and yet Mrs. Bishop knew as well as, if not better than,
any one Mary's views about marriage. She had, happily for herself, reaped
the benefit of them. In her surprise she sent Charles's letter to
Everina, accompanied by her own reflections upon the startling news.
These are a curious testimony to the strength of Mary's objections to
matrimony. Eliza's petty envy of her greater sister is still apparent in
this letter. It is dated August 15:--

     "... If Mary is _actually_ married to Mr. Imlay, it is not
     impossible but she might settle there [in America] too. Yet Mary
     cannot be _married_! It is natural to conclude her protector is her
     _husband_. Nay, on reading Charles's letter, I for an instant
     believed it true. I would, my Everina, we were out of suspense, for
     all at present is uncertainty and the most cruel suspense; still,
     Johnson does not repeat things at random, and that the very same
     tale should have crossed the Atlantic makes me almost believe that
     the once M. is now Mrs. Imlay, and a mother. Are we ever to see
     this mother and her babe?"

The only record of Mary's connection with Imlay, which lasted for about
two years, are the letters which she wrote to him while he was away from
her, his absences being frequent and long. Fortunately, these letters
have been preserved. They were published by Godwin almost immediately
after her death, and were republished in 1879 by C. Kegan Paul. "They
are," says Godwin, "the offspring of a glowing imagination, and a heart
penetrated with the passion it essays to describe." She was thirty-five
when she met Imlay. Her passion for him was strong with the strength of
full womanhood, nor had it been weakened by the flirtations in which so
many women fritter away whatever deep feeling they may have originally
possessed. She was no coquette, as she told him many times. She could not
have concealed her love in order to play upon that of the man to whom she
gave it. What she felt for him she showed him with no reservation or
affectation of feminine delicacy. She despised such false sentiments. The
consequence is, that her letters contain the unreserved expression of her
feelings. Those written before she had cause to doubt her lover are full
of wifely devotion and tenderness; those written from the time she was
forced to question his sincerity, through the gradual realization of his
faithlessness, until the bitter end, are the most pathetic and
heart-rending that have ever been given to the world. They are the cry of
a human soul in its death-agony, and are the more tragic because they
belong to real life and not to fiction. The sorrows of the Heros,
Guineveres, and Francescas of romance are not greater than hers were.
Their grief was separation from lovers who still loved them. Hers was the
loss of the love of a man for whom her passion had not ceased, and the
admission of the unworthiness of him whom she had chosen as worthy above
all others. Who will deny that her fate was the more cruel?

She in her letters tells her story better than any one else could do it
for her. Therefore, as far as it is possible, it will be repeated here in
her own words.

Imlay's love was to Mary what the kiss of the Prince was to the Sleeping
Beauty in the fairy tale. It awakened her heart to happiness, leading her
into that new world which is the old. Hitherto the love which had been
her portion was that which she had sought

    "... in the pity of other's woe,
    In the gentle relief of another's care."

And yet she had always believed that the pure passion which a man gives
to a woman is the greatest good in life. That she was without it had been
to her a heavier trial than an unhappy home and overwhelming debts. Now,
when she least expected it, it had come to her. While women in Paris were
either trembling with fear for what the morrow might bring forth, or else
caught in the feverish whirl of rebellion, one at least had found rest.
But human happiness can never be quite perfect. Sensitiveness was a
family fault with the Wollstonecrafts. It had been developed rather than
suppressed in Mary by her circumstances. She was therefore keenly
susceptible not only to Imlay's love, but to his failings. Of these he
had not a few. He does not seem to have been a refined man. From some
remarks in Mary's letters it may be concluded that he had at one time
been very dissipated, and that the society of coarse men and women had
blunted his finer instincts. His faults were peculiarly calculated to
offend her. His passion had to be stimulated. His business called him
away often, and his absences were unmistakably necessary to the
maintenance of his devotion. The sunshine of her new life was therefore
not entirely unclouded. She was by degrees obliged to lower the high
pedestal on which she had placed her lover, and to admit to herself that
he was not much above the level of ordinary men. This discovery did not
lessen her affection, though it made her occasionally melancholy. But she
was, on the whole, happy.

In September he was compelled to leave her to go to Havre, where he was
detained for several months. Love had cast out all fear from her heart.
She was certain that he considered himself in every sense of the word her
husband; and therefore during his absence she frankly told him how much
she missed him, and in her letters shared her troubles and pleasures with
him. She wrote the last thing at night to tell him of her love and her
loneliness. She could not take his slippers from their old place by the
door. She would not look at a package of books sent to her, but said she
would keep them until he could read them to her while she would mend her
stockings. She drew pictures of the happy days to come when in the farm,
either in America or France, to which they both looked forward as their
_Ultima Thule_, they would spend long evenings by their fireside, perhaps
with children about their knees. If Eliza sent her a worrying letter,
half the worry was gone when she had confided it to him. If ne'er-do-weel
Charles, temporarily prosperous or promising to be so, wrote her one that
pleased her, straightway she described the delight with which he would
make a friend of Imlay. When the latter had been away but a short time,
she found there was to be a new tie between them. As the father of her
unborn child he became doubly dear to her, while the consciousness that
another life depended upon her made her more careful of her health. "This
thought," she told him, "has not only produced an overflowing of
tenderness to you, but made me very attentive to calm my mind and take
exercise lest I should destroy an object in whom we are to have a mutual
interest, you know." As Kegan Paul says, "No one can read her letters
without seeing that she was a pure, high-minded, and refined woman, and
that she considered herself, in the eyes of God and man, his wife."

During the first part of his absence, Imlay appears to have been as
devoted as she could have wished him to be. When her letters to him did
not come regularly,--as indeed, how could they in those troubled
days?--he grew impatient. His impatience Mary greeted as a good sign. In
December she wrote:--

     I am glad to find that other people can be unreasonable as well as
     myself, for be it known to thee, that I answered thy _first_ letter
     the very night it reached me (Sunday), though thou couldst not
     receive it before Wednesday, because it was not sent off till the
     next day. There is a full, true, and particular account.

     Yet I am not angry with thee, my love, for I think that it is a
     proof of stupidity, and, likewise, of a milk-and-water affection,
     which comes to the same thing, when the temper is governed by a
     square and compass. There is nothing picturesque in this
     straight-lined equality, and the passions always give grace to the

     Recollection now makes my heart bound to thee; but it is not to thy
     money-getting face, though I cannot be seriously displeased with
     the exertion which increases my esteem, or rather is what I should
     have expected from thy character. No; I have thy honest countenance
     before me,--Pop,--relaxed by tenderness; a little, little wounded
     by my whims; and thy eyes glistening with sympathy. Thy lips then
     feel softer than soft, and I rest my cheek on thine, forgetting all
     the world. I have not left the hue of love out of the picture--the
     rosy glow; and fancy has spread it over my own cheeks, I believe,
     for I feel them burning, whilst a delicious tear trembles in my
     eye, that would be all your own, if a grateful emotion, directed to
     the Father of nature, who has made me thus alive to happiness, did
     not give more warmth to the sentiment it divides. I must pause a

     Need I tell you that I am tranquil after writing thus? I do not
     know why, but I have more confidence in your affection when absent
     than present; nay, I think that you must love me, for, in the
     sincerity of my heart let me say it, I believe I deserve your
     tenderness, because I am true, and have a degree of sensibility
     that you can see and relish.

       Yours sincerely,

But there were days during his absence when her melancholy returned with
full force. She could not but fear that the time would come when the
coarse fibre of his love would work her evil. Just after he left, she

     "... So much for business! May I venture to talk a little longer
     about less weighty affairs? How are you? I have been following you
     all along the road this comfortless weather; for when I am absent
     from those I love, my imagination is as lively as if my senses had
     never been gratified by their presence--I was going to say
     caresses, and why should I not? I have found out that I have more
     mind than you in one respect; because I can, without any violent
     effort of reason, find food for love in the same object much longer
     than you can. The way to my senses is through my heart; but,
     forgive me! I think there is sometimes a shorter cut to yours.

     "With ninety-nine men out of a hundred, a very sufficient dash of
     folly is necessary to render a woman _piquante_, a soft word for
     desirable; and, beyond these casual ebullitions of sympathy, few
     look for enjoyment by fostering a passion in their hearts. One
     reason, in short, why I wish my whole sex to become wiser, is, that
     the foolish ones may not, by their pretty folly, rob those whose
     sensibility keeps down their vanity, of the few roses that afford
     them some solace in the thorny road of life.

     "I do not know how I fell into these reflections, excepting one
     thought produced it--that these continual separations were
     necessary to warm your affection. Of late we are always separating.
     Crack! crack! and away you go! This joke wears the sallow cast of
     thought; for, though I began to write cheerfully, some melancholy
     tears have found their way into my eyes, that linger there, whilst
     a glow of tenderness at my heart whispers that you are one of the
     best creatures in the world. Pardon then the vagaries of a mind
     that has been almost 'crazed by care,' as well as 'crossed in
     hapless love,' and bear with me a _little_ longer. When we are
     settled in the country together, more duties will open before me;
     and my heart, which now, trembling into peace, is agitated by every
     emotion that awakens the remembrance of old griefs, will learn to
     rest on yours with that dignity your character, not to talk of my
     own, demands."

The business at Havre apparently could not be easily settled. The date of
Imlay's return became more and more uncertain, and Mary grew restless at
his prolonged stay. This she let him know soon enough. She was not a
silent heroine willing to let concealment prey on her spirits. It was as
impossible for her to smile at grief as it was to remain unconscious of
her lover's shortcomings. Her first complaints, however, are half
playful, half serious. They were inspired by her desire to see him more
than by any misgiving as to the cause of his detention. On the 29th of
December she wrote:

     "You seem to have taken up your abode at Havre. Pray, sir! when do
     you think of coming home? or, to write very considerately, when
     will business permit you? I shall expect (as the country people say
     in England) that you will make a _power_ of money to indemnify me
     for your absence....

     "Well! but, my love, to the old story,--am I to see you this week,
     or this month? I do not know what you are about, for as you did not
     tell me, I would not ask Mr. ----, who is generally pretty

But the playfulness quickly disappeared. Mary was ill, and her illness
aggravated her normal sensitiveness, while the terrible death-drama of
the Revolution was calculated to deepen rather than to relieve her gloom.
A day or two later she broke out vehemently:--

     "... I hate commerce. How differently must ----'s head and heart be
     organized from mine! You will tell me that exertions are necessary.
     I am weary of them! The face of things public and private vexes me.
     The 'peace' and clemency which seemed to be dawning a few days ago,
     disappear again. 'I am fallen,' as Milton said, 'on evil days,' for
     I really believe that Europe will be in a state of convulsion
     during half a century at least. Life is but a labor of patience; it
     is always rolling a great stone up a hill; for before a person can
     find a resting-place, imagining it is lodged, down it comes again,
     and all the work is to be done over anew!

     "Should I attempt to write any more, I could not change the strain.
     My head aches and my heart is heavy. The world appears an 'unweeded
     garden' where things 'rank and vile' flourish best.

     "If you do not return soon,--or, which is no such weighty matter,
     talk of it,--I will throw my slippers out at window, and be off,
     nobody knows where."

The next morning she added in a postscript:--

     "I was very low-spirited last night, ready to quarrel with your
     cheerful temper, which makes absence easy to you. And why should I
     mince the matter? I was offended at your not even mentioning it. I
     do not want to be loved like a goddess, but I wish to be necessary
     to you. God bless you!"

Imlay's answers to these letters were kind and reassuring, and contained
ample explanation of his apparent coldness. He probably, to give him the
benefit of the doubt, was at this time truthful in pleading business as
an excuse for his long absence. His reasons, at all events, not only
satisfied Mary but made her ashamed of what seemed to her a want of faith
in him. She was as humble in her penitence as if she had been grievously
at fault. One Monday night she wrote:--

     "I have just received your kind and rational letter, and would fain
     hide my face, glowing with shame for my folly. I would hide it in
     your bosom, if you would again open it to me, and nestle closely
     till you bade my fluttering heart be still, by saying that you
     forgave me. With eyes overflowing with tears, and in the humblest
     attitude, I entreat you. Do not turn from me, for indeed I love you
     fondly, and have been very wretched since the night I was so
     cruelly hurt by thinking that you had no confidence in me."

As it continued impossible for Imlay to leave Havre, it was arranged that
Mary should join him there. She could not go at once on account of her
health. While she had been so unhappy, she had neglected to take that
care of herself which her condition necessitated, and she was suffering
the consequences. Once her mind was at rest, she made what amends she
could by exercise in the bracing winter air, in defiance of dirt and
intense cold, and by social relaxation, at least such as could be had
while the guillotine was executing daily tasks to the tune of _Ça ira_,
and women were madly turning in the mazes of the _Carmagnole_. Though she
could not boast of being quite recovered, she was soon able to report to
Imlay, "I am so _lightsome_, that I think it will not go badly with me."
Her health sufficiently restored, and an escort--the excited condition of
the country making one more than usually indispensable--having been
found, she began her welcome journey. It was doubly welcome. One could
breathe more freely away from Paris, the seat of the Reign of Terror,
where the Revolution, as Vergniaud said, was, Saturn-like, devouring its
own children; and for Mary the journey had likewise the positive pleasure
of giving her her heart's desire. Before Imlay's warm assurances of his
love, her uneasiness melted away as quickly as the snow at the first
breath of spring. How completely, is shown in this extract from a letter
in which she prepared him for her coming:--

     "You have by your tenderness and worth twisted yourself more
     artfully round my heart than I supposed possible. Let me indulge
     the thought that I have thrown out some tendrils to cling to the
     elm by which I wish to be supported. This is talking a new language
     for me! But, knowing that I am not a parasite-plant, I am willing
     to receive the proofs of affection that every pulse replies to when
     I think of being once more in the same house with you. God bless

She arrived in Havre in the February of 1794. About a fortnight later
Imlay left for Paris, but many proofs of his affection had greeted her,
and during these few days he had completely calmed her fears. Judging
from the letters she sent him during this absence, he must have been as
lover-like as in the first happy days of their union. One was written the
very day after his departure:--

       HAVRE, _Thursday morning_, March 12.

     We are such creatures of habit, my love, that, though I cannot say
     I was sorry, childishly so, for your going, when I knew that you
     were to stay such a short time, and I had a plan of employment, yet
     I could not sleep. I turned to your side of the bed, and tried to
     make the most of the comfort of the pillow, which you used to tell
     me I was churlish about; but all would not do. I took,
     nevertheless, my walk before breakfast, though the weather was not
     inviting; and here I am, wishing you a finer day, and seeing you
     peep over my shoulder, as I write, with one of your kindest looks,
     when your eyes glisten and a suffusion creeps over your relaxing

     But I do not mean to dally with you this morning. So God bless you!
     Take care of yourself, and sometimes fold to your heart your


The second note was written shortly before his return, and was a mere
postscript to a letter on business. Had she covered reams of paper with
her protestations, she could not have expressed her tender devotion more
strongly than in these few lines:--

     Do not call me stupid for leaving on the table the little bit of
     paper I was to enclose. This comes of being in love at the fag-end
     of a letter of business. You know you say they will not chime
     together. I had got you by the fire-side with the _gigot_ smoking
     on the board, to lard your bare ribs, and behold, I closed my
     letter without taking the paper up, that was directly under my
     eyes! What had I got in them to render me so blind? I give you
     leave to answer the question, if you will not scold; for I am

       Yours most affectionately,

Imlay's absence was brief, nor did he again leave Mary until the
following August. In April their child, a daughter, was born, whom Mary
called Fanny in memory of her first and dearest friend. Despite her past
imprudences, she was so well that she remained in bed but a day. Eight
days later she was out again. Though she felt no ill effects at the time,
her rashness had probably something to do with her illness when her
second child was born. These months at Havre were a pleasant oasis in
the dreary desert of her existence. To no parched, sun-weary traveller
have the cooling waters of the well and the shade of the palm-tree been
more refreshing and invigorating than domestic pleasures were to Mary.
Years before she had told Mr. Johnson they were among her most highly
cherished joys, nor did they prove less desirable when realized than they
had in anticipation. She seems to have had a house of her own in Havre,
and to have seen a little of the Havrais, whom she found "ugly without
doubt," and their houses smelling too much of commerce. They were, in a
word, _bourgeois_. But her husband and child were all the society she
wanted. With them any wilderness would have been a paradise. Her
affection increased with time, and Imlay, though discovered not to be a
demigod, grew ever dearer to her. Her love for her child, which she
confessed was at first the effect of a sense of duty, developed soon into
a deep and tender feeling. With Imlay's wants to attend to, the little
Fanny, at one time ill with small-pox, to nurse, and her book on the
Revolution to write, the weeks and months passed quickly and happily. In
August Imlay was summoned to Paris, and at once the sky of her paradise
was overcast. She wrote to him,--

     "You too have somehow clung round my heart. I found I could not eat
     my dinner in the great room, and when I took up the large knife to
     carve for myself, tears rushed into my eyes. Do not, however,
     suppose that I am melancholy, for, when you are from me, I not only
     wonder how I can find fault with you, but how I can doubt your




Unfortunately, as a rule, the traveller on life's journey has but as
short a time to stay in the pleasant green resting-places, as the
wanderer through the desert. In September Mary followed Imlay to Paris.
But the gates of her Eden were forever barred. Before the end of the
month he had bidden her farewell and had gone to London. Against the
fascination of money-making, her charms had little chance. His
estrangement dates from this separation. When Mary met him again, he had
forgotten love and honor, and had virtually deserted her. While her
affection became stronger, his weakened until finally it perished

Her confidence in him, however, was confirmed by the months spent at
Havre, and she little dreamed his departure was the prelude to their
final parting. For a time she was lighter-hearted than she had ever
before been while he was away. The memory of her late happiness reassured
her. Her little girl was an unceasing source of joy, and she never tired
of writing to Imlay about her. Her maternal tenderness overflows in her

     "... You will want to be told over and over again," she said in
     one of them, not doubting his interest to be as great as her, "that
     our little Hercules is quite recovered.

     "Besides looking at me, there are three other things which delight
     her: to ride in a coach, to look at a scarlet waistcoat, and hear
     loud music. Yesterday at the fête she enjoyed the two latter; but,
     to honor J. J. Rousseau, I intend to give her a sash, the first she
     has ever had round her...."

In a second, she writes:--

     "I have been playing and laughing with the little girl so long,
     that I cannot take up my pen to address you without emotion.
     Pressing her to my bosom, she looked so like you (_entre nous_,
     your best looks, for I do not admire your commercial face), every
     nerve seemed to vibrate to her touch, and I began to think that
     there was something in the assertion of man and wife being one, for
     you seemed to pervade my whole frame, quickening the beat of my
     heart, and lending me the sympathetic tears you excited."

And in still another, she exclaims:--

     "My little darling is indeed a sweet child; and I am sorry that you
     are not here to see her little mind unfold itself. You talk of
     'dalliance,' but certainly no lover was ever more attached to his
     mistress than she is to me. Her eyes follow me everywhere, and by
     affection I have the most despotic power over her. She is all
     vivacity or softness. Yes; I love her more than I thought I should.
     When I have been hurt at your stay, I have embraced her as my only
     comfort; when pleased with her, for looking and laughing like you;
     nay, I cannot, I find, long be angry with you, whilst I am kissing
     her for resembling you. But there would be no end to these details.
     Fold us both to your heart."

As the devout go on pilgrimage to places once sanctified by the presence
of a departed saint, so she visited alone the haunts of the early days
of their love, living over again the incidents which had made them
sacred. "My imagination," she told him, "... chooses to ramble back to
the barrier with you, or to see you coming to meet me and my basket of
grapes. With what pleasure do I recollect your looks and words, when I
have been sitting on the window, regarding the waving corn." She begged
him to bring back his "barrier face," as she thus fondly recalled their
interviews at the barrier. She told him of a night passed at Saint
Germains in the very room which had once been theirs, and, glowing with
these recollections, she warned him, that if he should return changed in
aught, she would fly from him to cherish remembrances which must be ever
dear to her. Occasionally a little humorous pleasantry interrupted the
more tender outpourings in her letters. Just as, according to Jean Paul,
a man can only afford to ridicule his religion when his faith is firm, so
it was only when her confidence in Imlay was most secure that she could
speak lightly of her love. To the reader of her life, who can see the
snake lurking in the grass, her mirth is more tragical than her grief. On
the 26th of October, Imlay having now been absent for over a month, she

     "I have almost _charmed_ a judge of the tribunal, R., who, though I
     should not have thought it possible, has humanity, if not _beaucoup
     d'esprit_. But, let me tell you, if you do not make haste back, I
     shall be half in love with the author of the _Marseillaise_, who is
     a handsome man, a little too broad-faced or so, and plays sweetly
     on the violin.

     "What do you say to this threat?--why, _entre nous_, I like to
     give way to a sprightly vein when writing to you. 'The devil,' you
     know, is proverbially said to 'be in a good humor when he is

Many of her old friends in the capital had been numbered among the
children devoured by the insatiable monster. A few, however, were still
left, and she seems to have made new ones and to have again gone into
Parisian society. The condition of affairs was more conducive to social
pleasures than it had been the year before. Robespierre was dead. There
were others besides Mary who feared "the last flap of the tail of the
beast;" but, as a rule, the people, now the reaction had come, were
over-confident, and the season was one of merry-making. There were fêtes
and balls. Even mourning for the dead became the signal for rejoicing;
and gay Parisians, their arms tied with crape, danced to the memory of
the victims of the late national delirium. The Reign of Terror was over,
but so was Mary's happiness. Public order was partly restored, but her
own short-lived peace was rudely interrupted. Imlay in London became more
absorbed in his immediate affairs, a fact which he could not conceal in
his letters; and Mary realized that compared to business she was of
little or no importance to him. She expostulated earnestly with him on
the folly of allowing money cares and ambitions to preoccupy him. She
sincerely sympathized with him in his disappointments, but she could not
understand his willingness to sacrifice sentiment and affection to sordid
cares. "It appears to me absurd," she told him, "to waste life in
preparing to live." Not one of the least of her trials was that she was
at this time often forced to see a man who was Imlay's friend or partner
in Paris, and who seems to have aided and abetted him in his
speculations. He tormented her with accounts of new enterprises, and she
complained very bitterly of him. "----, I know, urges you to stay," she
wrote in one of her first letters of expostulation, "and is continually
branching out into new projects because he has the idle desire to amass a
large fortune, rather, an immense one, merely to have the credit of
having made it. But we who are governed by other motives ought not to be
led on by him; when we meet we will discuss this subject." For a little
while she tried to believe that her doubts had no substantial basis, but
were the result of her solitude. In the same letter she said:--

     "... I will only tell you that I long to see you, and, being at
     peace with you, I shall be hurt, rather than made angry, by delays.
     Having suffered so much in life, do not be surprised if I
     sometimes, when left to myself, grow gloomy and suppose that it was
     all a dream, and that my happiness is not to last. I say happiness,
     because remembrance retrenches all the dark shades of the picture."

But by degrees the dark shades increased until they had completely
blotted out the light made by the past. Imlay's letters were fewer and
shorter, more taken up with business, and less concerned with her. Ought
she to endure his indifference, or ought she to separate from him
forever? was the question which now tortured her. She had tasted the
higher pleasures, and the present pain was intense in proportion. Her
letters became mournful as dirges.

On the 30th of December she wrote:--

     "Should you receive three or four of the letters at once which I
     have written lately, do not think of Sir John Brute, for I do not
     mean to wife you, I only take advantage of every occasion, that one
     out of three of my epistles may reach your hands, and inform you
     that I am not of ----'s opinion, who talks till he makes me angry
     of the necessity of your staying two or three months longer. I do
     not like this life of continual inquietude, and, _entre nous_, I am
     determined to try to earn some money here myself, in order to
     convince you that, if you choose to run about the world to get a
     fortune, it is for yourself; for the little girl and I will live
     without your assistance unless you are with us. I may be termed
     proud; be it so, but I will never abandon certain principles of

     "The common run of men have such an ignoble way of thinking that if
     they debauch their hearts and prostitute their persons, following
     perhaps a gust of inebriation, the wife, slave rather, whom they
     maintain has no right to complain, and ought to receive the sultan
     whenever he deigns to return with open arms, though his have been
     polluted by half an hundred promiscuous amours during his absence.

     "I consider fidelity and constancy as two distinct things, yet the
     former is necessary to give life to the other; and such a degree of
     respect do I think due to myself, that if only probity, which is a
     good thing in its place, brings you back, never return! for if a
     wandering of the heart or even a caprice of the imagination detains
     you, there is an end of all my hopes of happiness. I could not
     forgive it if I would.

     "I have gotten into a melancholy mood, you perceive. You know my
     opinion of men in general; you know that I think them systematic
     tyrants, and that it is the rarest thing in the world to meet with
     a man with sufficient delicacy of feeling to govern desire. When I
     am thus sad, I lament that my little darling, fondly as I dote on
     her, is a girl. I am sorry to have a tie to a world that for me is
     ever sown with thorns.

     "You will call this an ill-humored letter, when, in fact, it is
     the strongest proof of affection I can give to dread to lose you.
     ---- has taken such pains to convince me that you must and ought to
     stay, that it has inconceivably depressed my spirits. You have
     always known my opinion. I have ever declared that two people who
     mean to live together ought not to be long separated. If certain
     things are more necessary to you than me,--search for them. Say but
     one word, and you shall never hear of me more. If not, for God's
     sake let us struggle with poverty--with any evil but these
     continual inquietudes of business, which I have been told were to
     last but a few months, though every day the end appears more
     distant! This is the first letter in this strain that I have
     determined to forward to you; the rest lie by because I was
     unwilling to give you pain, and I should not now write if I did not
     think that there would be no conclusion to the schemes which
     demand, as I am told, your presence."

Once, but only once, the light shone again. On the 15th of January she
received a kind letter from Imlay, and her anger died away. "It is
pleasant to forgive those we love," she said to him simply. But it was
followed by his usual hasty business notes or by complete silence, and
henceforward she knew hope only by name. Her old habit of seeing
everything from the dark side returned. She could not find one redeeming
point in his conduct. Despair seized her soul. Her own misery was set
against a dark background, for she looked beneath the surface of current
events. She heard not the music of the ball-room, but that of the
battle-field. She saw not the dances of the heedless, but the tears of
the motherless and the orphaned. The luxury of the upper classes might
deceive some men, but it could not deafen her to the complaints of the
poor, who were only waiting their chance to proclaim to the new
Constitution that they wanted not fine speeches, but bread. Other
discomforts contributed their share to her burden. A severe cold had
settled upon her lungs, and she imagined she was in a galloping
consumption. Her lodgings were not very convenient, but she had put up
with them, waiting day by day for Imlay's return. Weary of her life as
Job was of his, she, like him, spoke out in the bitterness of her soul.
Her letters from this time on are written from the very valley of the
shadow of death. On February 9 she wrote:--

     "The melancholy presentiment has for some time hung on my spirits,
     that we were parted forever; and the letters I received this day,
     by Mr. ----, convince me that it was not without foundation. You
     allude to some other letters, which I suppose have miscarried; for
     most of those I have got were only a few, hasty lines calculated to
     wound the tenderness that the sight of the superscriptions excited.

     "I mean not, however, to complain; yet so many feelings are
     struggling for utterance, and agitating a heart almost bursting
     with anguish, that I find it very difficult to write with any
     degree of coherence.

     "You left me indisposed, though you have taken no notice of it; and
     the most fatiguing journey I ever had contributed to continue it.
     However, I recovered my health; but a neglected cold, and continual
     inquietude during the last two months, have reduced me to a state
     of weakness I never before experienced. Those who did not know that
     the canker-worm was at work at the core cautioned me about suckling
     my child too long. God preserve this poor child, and render her
     happier than her mother!

     "But I am wandering from my subject; indeed, my head turns giddy,
     when I think that all the confidence I have had in the affection of
     others is come to this. I did not expect this blow from you. I
     have done my duty to you and my child; and if I am not to have any
     return of affection to reward me, I have the sad consolation of
     knowing that I deserved a better fate. My soul is weary; I am sick
     at heart; and but for this little darling I would cease to care
     about a life which is now stripped of every charm.

     "You see how stupid I am, uttering declamation when I meant simply
     to tell you that I consider your requesting me to come to you as
     merely dictated by honor. Indeed, I scarcely understand you. You
     request me to come, and then tell me that you have not given up all
     thoughts of returning to this place.

     "When I determined to live with you, I was only governed by
     affection. I would share poverty with you, but I turn with affright
     from the sea of trouble on which you are entering. I have certain
     principles of action; I know what I look for to found my happiness
     on. It is not money. With you, I wished for sufficient to procure
     the comforts of life; as it is, less will do. I can still exert
     myself to obtain the necessaries of life for my child, and she does
     not want more at present. I have two or three plans in my head to
     earn our subsistence; for do not suppose that, neglected by you, I
     will lie under obligations of a pecuniary kind to you! No; I would
     sooner submit to menial service. I wanted the support of your
     affection; that gone, all is over! I did not think, when I
     complained of ----'s contemptible avidity to accumulate money, that
     he would have dragged you into his schemes.

     "I cannot write. I enclose a fragment of a letter, written soon
     after your departure, and another which tenderness made me keep
     back when it was written. You will see then the sentiments of a
     calmer, though not a more determined moment. Do not insult me by
     saying that 'our being together is paramount to every other
     consideration!' Were it, you would not be running after a bubble,
     at the expense of my peace of mind.

     "Perhaps this is the last letter you will ever receive from me."

Grief sometimes makes men strong. Mary's stimulated her into a
determination to break her connection with Imlay, and to live for her
child alone. She would remain in Paris and superintend Fanny's education.
She had already been able to look out for herself; there was no reason
why she should not do it again. Until she settled upon the means of
support to be adopted, she would borrow money from her friends. Anything
was better than to live at Imlay's expense. As for him, such a course
would probably be a relief, and certainly it would do him no harm. "As I
never concealed the nature of my connection with you," she wrote him,
"your reputation will not suffer." But her plans, for some reason, did
not meet with his approval. He was tired of her, and yet he seems to have
been ashamed to confess his inconstancy. At one moment he wrote that he
was coming to Paris; at the next he bade her meet him in London. But no
mention was made of the farm in America. The excitement of commerce
proved more alluring than the peace of country life. His shilly-shallying
unnerved Mary; positive desertion would have been easier to bear. On
February 19 she wrote him:--

     "When I first received your letter putting off your return to an
     indefinite time, I felt so hurt that I knew not what I wrote. I am
     now calmer, though it was not the kind of wound over which time has
     the quickest effect; on the contrary, the more I think, the sadder
     I grow. Society fatigues me inexpressibly; so much so that, finding
     fault with every one, I have only reason enough to discover that
     the fault is in myself. My child alone interests me, and but for
     her I should not take any pains to recover my health."

The child was now the strongest bond of union between them. For her sake
she felt the necessity of continuing to live with Imlay as long as
possible, though his love was dead. Therefore, when he wrote definitely
that he would like her to come to him, since he could not leave his
business to go to her, she relinquished her intentions of remaining alone
in France with Fanny, and set out at once for London. She could hardly
have passed through Havre without feeling the bitter contrast between her
happiness of the year before, and her present hopelessness. "I sit, lost
in thought," she wrote to Imlay, "looking at the sea, and tears rush into
my eyes when I find that I am cherishing any fond expectations. I have
indeed been so unhappy this winter, I find it as difficult to acquire
fresh hopes as to regain tranquillity. Enough of this; be still, foolish
heart! But for the little girl, I could almost wish that it should cease
to beat, to be no more alive to the anguish of disappointment." The boat
upon which she sailed was run aground, and she was thus unexpectedly
detained at Havre. During this interval she touched still more closely
upon sorrow's crown of sorrow in remembering happier things, by writing
to Mr. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who had escaped from his prison in
Ireland to France, and giving him certain necessary information about the
house she had left, and which he was about to occupy.

She reached London in April, 1795. Her gloomiest forebodings were
confirmed. Imlay had provided a furnished house for her, and had
considered her comforts. But his manner was changed. He was cold and
constrained, and she felt the difference immediately. He was little with
her, and business was, as of old, the excuse. According to Godwin, he had
formed another connection with a young strolling actress. Life was thus
even less bright in London than it had been in Paris. If hell is but the
shadow of a soul on fire, she was now plunged into its deepest depths.
Its tortures were more than she could endure. For her there were, indeed,
worse things waiting at the gate of life than death, and she resolved by
suicide to escape from them. This part of her story is very obscure. But
it is certain that her suicidal intentions were so nearly carried into
effect, that she had written several letters containing her, as she
thought, last wishes, and which were to be opened after all was over.
There is no exact account of the manner in which she proposed to kill
herself, nor of the means by which she was prevented. "I only know,"
Godwin says, "that Mr. Imlay became acquainted with her purpose at a
moment when he was uncertain whether or no it was already executed, and
that his feelings were roused by the intelligence. It was perhaps owing
to his activity and representations that her life was at this time saved.
She determined to continue to exist."

This event sobered both Imlay and Mary. They saw the danger they were in,
and the consequent necessity of forming a definite conclusion as to the
nature of their future relations. They must either live together in
perfect confidence, or else they must separate. "My friend, my dear
friend," she wrote him, "examine yourself well,--I am out of the
question; for, alas! I am nothing,--and discover what you wish to do,
what will render you most comfortable; or, to be more explicit, whether
you desire to live with me, or part forever! When you can ascertain it,
tell me frankly, I conjure you! for, believe me, I have very
involuntarily interrupted your peace." The determination could not be
made in a hurry. In the meantime Mary knew it would be unwise to remain
idle, meditating upon her wrongs. Forgetfulness of self in active work
appeared the only possible means of living through the period of
uncertainty. Imlay had business in Norway and Sweden which demanded the
personal superintendence either of himself or of a trustworthy agent. He
gave it in charge to Mary, and at the end of May she started upon this
mission. That Imlay still looked upon her as his wife, and that his
confidence in her was unlimited, is shown by the following document in
which he authorizes her to act for him:--

       May 19, 1795.

     Know all men by these presents that I, Gilbert Imlay, citizen of
     the United States of America, at present residing in London, do
     nominate, constitute, and appoint Mary Imlay, my best friend and
     wife, to take the sole management and direction of all my affairs,
     and business which I had placed in the hands of Mr. Elias Bachman,
     negotiant, Gottenburg, or in those of Messrs. Myburg & Co.,
     Copenhagen, desiring that she will manage and direct such concerns
     in such manner as she may deem most wise and prudent. For which
     this letter shall be a sufficient power, enabling her to receive
     all the money or sums of money that may be recovered from Peter
     Ellison or his connections, whatever may be the issue of the trial
     now carrying on, instigated by Mr. Elias Bachman, as my agent, for
     the violation of the trust which I had reposed in his integrity.

     Considering the aggravated distresses, the accumulated losses and
     damages sustained in consequence of the said Ellison's disobedience
     of my injunctions, I desire the said Mary Imlay will clearly
     ascertain the amount of such damages, taking first the advice of
     persons qualified to judge of the probability of obtaining
     satisfaction, or the means the said Ellison or his connections, who
     may be proved to be implicated in his guilt, may have, or power of
     being able to make restitution, and then commence a new prosecution
     for the same accordingly....

     Respecting the cargo of goods in the hands of Messrs. Myburg and
     Co., Mrs. Imlay has only to consult the most experienced persons
     engaged in the disposition of such articles, and then, placing them
     at their disposal, act as she may deem right and proper....

     Thus confiding in the talent, zeal, and earnestness of my dearly
     beloved friend and companion, I submit the management of these
     affairs entirely and implicitly to her discretion.

     Remaining most sincerely and affectionately hers truly,

       G. IMLAY.

       _Witness_, J. SAMUEL.

Unfortunately for Mary, she was detained at Hull, from which town she was
to set sail, for about a month. She was thus unable immediately to still
the memory of her sorrows. It is touching to see how, now that she could
no longer doubt that Imlay was made of common clay, she began to find
excuses for him. She represented to herself that it was her misfortune to
have met him too late. Had she known him before dissipation had enslaved
him, there would have been none of this trouble. She was, furthermore,
convinced that his natural refinement was not entirely destroyed, and
that if he would but make the effort he could overcome his grosser
appetites. To this effect she wrote him from Hull:--

     "I shall always consider it as one of the most serious misfortunes
     of my life, that I did not meet you before satiety had rendered
     your senses so fastidious as almost to close up every tender avenue
     of sentiment and affection that leads to your sympathetic heart.
     You have a heart, my friend; yet, hurried away by the impetuosity
     of inferior feelings, you have sought in vulgar excesses for that
     gratification which only the heart can bestow.

     "The common run of men, I know, with strong health and gross
     appetites, must have variety to banish ennui, because the
     imagination never lends its magic wand to convert appetite into
     love, cemented by according reason. Ah! my friend, you know not the
     ineffable delight, the exquisite pleasure, which arises from an
     unison of affection and desire, when the whole soul and senses are
     abandoned to a lively imagination, that renders every emotion
     delicate and rapturous. Yes; these are emotions over which satiety
     has no power, and the recollection of which even disappointment
     cannot disenchant; but they do not exist without self-denial. These
     emotions, more or less strong, appear to me to be the distinctive
     characteristics of genius, the foundation of taste, and of that
     exquisite relish for the beauties of nature, of which the common
     herd of eaters and drinkers and _child-begetters_ certainly have no
     idea. You will smile at an observation that has just occurred to
     me: I consider those minds as the most strong and original whose
     imagination acts as the stimulus to their senses.

     "Well! you will ask what is the result of all this reasoning. Why,
     I cannot help thinking that it is possible for you, having great
     strength of mind, to return to nature and regain a sanity of
     constitution and purity of feeling which would open your heart to
     me. I would fain rest there!

     "Yet, convinced more than ever of the sincerity and tenderness of
     my attachment to you, the involuntary hopes which a determination
     to live has revived are not sufficiently strong to dissipate the
     cloud that despair has spread over futurity. I have looked at the
     sea and at my child, hardly daring to own to myself the secret wish
     that it might become our tomb, and that the heart, still so alive
     to anguish, might there be quieted by death. At this moment ten
     thousand complicated sentiments press for utterance, weigh on my
     heart, and obscure my sight."

After almost a month of inactivity, the one bright spot in it being a
visit to Beverly, the home of her childhood, she sailed for Sweden, with
Fanny and a maid as her only companions. Her "Letters from Sweden,
Norway, and Denmark," with the more personal passages omitted, were
published in a volume by themselves shortly after her return to England.
Notice of them will find a more appropriate place in another chapter. All
that is necessary here is the very portion which was then suppressed, but
which Godwin later included with the "Letters to Imlay." The northern
trip had at least this good result. It strengthened her physically. She
was so weak when she first arrived in Sweden that the day she landed she
fell fainting to the ground as she walked to her carriage. For a while
everything fatigued her. The bustle of the people around her seemed
"flat, dull, and unprofitable." The civilities by which she was
overwhelmed, and the endeavors of the people she met to amuse her, were
fatiguing. Nothing, for a while, could lighten her deadly weight of
sorrow. But by degrees, as her letters show, she improved. Pure air, long
walks, and rides on horseback, rowing and bathing, and days in the
country had their beneficial effect, and she wrote to Imlay on July 4,
"The rosy fingers of health already streak my cheeks; and I have seen a
physical life in my eyes, after I have been climbing the rocks, that
resembled the fond, credulous hopes of youth."

But even a sound body cannot heal a broken heart. Mary could not throw
off her troubles in a day. She after a time tried to distract her mind by
entering into the amusements she had at first scorned, but it was often
in vain. "I have endeavored to fly from myself," she said in one letter,
"and launched into all the dissipation possible here, only to feel keener
anguish when alone with my child." There was a change for the better,
however, in her mental state, for though her grief was not completely
cured, she at least voluntarily sought to recover her emotional
equilibrium. Self-examination showed her where her weakness lay, and she
resolved to conquer it. With but too much truth, she told Imlay:--

     "Love is a want of my heart. I have examined myself lately with
     more care than formerly, and find that to deaden is not to calm the
     mind. Aiming at tranquillity I have almost destroyed all the energy
     of my soul, almost rooted out what renders it estimable. Yes, I
     have damped that enthusiasm of character, which converts the
     grossest materials into a fuel that imperceptibly feeds hopes which
     aspire above common enjoyment. Despair, since the birth of my
     child, has rendered me stupid; soul and body seemed to be fading
     away before the withering touch of disappointment."

Despite her endeavors, her spiritual recovery was slow. A cry of agony
still rang through her letters. But she had at least one pleasure that
helped to soften her cares. This was her love for her child, which,
always great, was increased by Imlay's cruelty. The tenderness which he
by his indifference repulsed, she now lavished upon Fanny. She seemed to
feel that she ought to make amends for the fact that her child was, to
all intents and purposes, fatherless. In the same letter from which the
above passage is taken, there is this little outburst of maternal

     "I grow more and more attached to my little girl, and I cherish
     this affection with fear, because it must be a long time before it
     can become bitterness of soul. She is an interesting creature. On
     ship-board how often, as I gazed at the sea, have I longed to bury
     my troubled bosom in the less troubled deep; asserting, with
     Brutus, 'that the virtue I had followed too far was merely a name!'
     and nothing but the sight of her--her playful smiles, which seemed
     to cling and twine round my heart--could have stopped me."

It so happened that at one time she was obliged to leave her child with
her nurse for about a month. Business called her to Tönsberg in Norway,
and the journey would have been bad for Fanny, who was cutting her teeth.
"I felt more at leaving my child than I thought I should," she wrote to
Imlay, "and whilst at night I imagined every instant that I heard the
half-formed sounds of her voice, I asked myself how I could think of
parting with her forever, of leaving her thus helpless." Here indeed was
a stronger argument against suicide than Christianity or its
"aftershine." This absence stimulated her motherly solicitude and
heightened her sense of responsibility. In her appeals to Imlay to settle
upon his future course in her regard, she now began to dwell upon their
child as the most important reason to keep them together. On the 30th of
July she wrote from Tönsberg:--

     "I will try to write with a degree of composure. I wish for us to
     live together, because I want you to acquire an habitual
     tenderness for my poor girl. I cannot bear to think of leaving her
     alone in the world, or that she should only be protected by your
     sense of duty. Next to preserving her, my most earnest wish is not
     to disturb your peace. I have nothing to expect, and little to
     fear, in life. There are wounds that can never be healed; but they
     may be allowed to fester in silence without wincing."

On the 7th of August she wrote again in the same strain:--

     "This state of suspense, my friend, is intolerable; we must
     determine on something, and soon; we must meet shortly, or part
     forever. I am sensible that I acted foolishly, but I was wretched
     when we were together. Expecting too much, I let the pleasure I
     might have caught, slip from me. I cannot live with you, I ought
     not, if you form another attachment. But I promise you, mine shall
     not be intruded on you. Little reason have I to expect a shadow of
     happiness, after the cruel disappointments that have rent my heart;
     but that of my child seems to depend on our being together. Still,
     I do not wish you to sacrifice a chance of enjoyment for an
     uncertain good. I feel a conviction that I can provide for her, and
     it shall be my object, if we are indeed to part to meet no more.
     Her affection must not be divided. She must be a comfort to me, if
     I am to have no other, and only know me as her support. I feel that
     I cannot endure the anguish of corresponding with you, if we are
     only to correspond. No; if you seek for happiness elsewhere, my
     letters shall not interrupt your repose. I will be dead to you. I
     cannot express to you what pain it gives me to write about an
     eternal separation. You must determine. Examine yourself. But, for
     God's sake! spare me the anxiety of uncertainty! I may sink under
     the trial; but I will not complain."

He seems to have written to her regularly. At times she reproached him
for not letting her hear from him, but at others she acknowledged the
receipt of three and five letters in one morning. If these had been
preserved, hers would not seem as importunate as they do now, for he gave
her reason to suppose that he was anxious for a reunion, and wrote in a
style which she told him she may have deserved, but which she had not
expected from him. She also referred to his admission that her words
tortured him; and there was talk of a trip together to Switzerland. But
at the same time his proofs of indifference forced her to declare that
she and pleasure had shaken hands. "How often," she breaks out in her
agony, "passing through the rocks, I have thought, 'But for this child, I
would lay my head on one of them, and never open my eyes again!'" The
only particular in which he remained firm was his unwillingness to give a
final decision in what, to her, was the one all-important matter. His
vacillating behavior was heartless in the extreme. Her suspense became
unbearable, and all her letters contained entreaties for him to relieve
it. She was ready, once he said the word, to undertake to support her
child and herself. But the fiat must come from him. Had it remained
entirely with her she would have returned to him. But this she could not
do unless he would receive her as his wife and promise loyalty to her. "I
do not understand you," she wrote on the 6th of September, in answer to
one of his letters. "It is necessary for you to write more explicitly,
and determine on some mode of conduct. I cannot endure this suspense.
Decide. Do you fear to strike another blow? We live together, or
eternally apart! I shall not write to you again till I receive an answer
to this."

Finally, after allowing her to suffer three months of acute agony, he
summoned up resolution enough to write and tell her he would abide by her
decision. Her business in the North had been satisfactorily settled, for
which she was, alas! to receive but poor thanks; and the welfare of the
child having now become the pivot of her actions, she returned to
England. From Dover she sent him a letter informing him that she was
prepared once more to make his home hers:--

     You say I must decide for myself. I have decided that it was most
     for the interest of my little girl, and for my own comfort, little
     as I expect, for us to live together; and I even thought that you
     would be glad some years hence, when the tumult of business was
     over, to repose in the society of an affectionate friend, and mark
     the progress of our interesting child, whilst endeavoring to be of
     use in the circle you at last resolved to rest in, for you cannot
     run about forever.

     From the tenor of your last letter, however, I am led to imagine
     that you have formed some new attachment. If it be so, let me
     earnestly request you to see me once more, and immediately. This is
     the only proof I require of the friendship you profess for me. I
     will then decide, since you boggle about a mere form.

     I am laboring to write with calmness; but the extreme anguish I
     feel at landing without having any friend to receive me, and even
     to be conscious that the friend whom I most wish to see will feel a
     disagreeable sensation at being informed of my arrival, does not
     come under the description of common misery. Every emotion yields
     to an overwhelming flood of sorrow, and the playfulness of my child
     distresses me. On her account I wished to remain a few days here,
     comfortless as is my situation. Besides, I did not wish to surprise
     you. You have told me that you would make any sacrifice to promote
     my happiness--and, even in your last unkind letter, you talk of the
     ties which bind you to me and my child. Tell me that you wish it,
     and I will cut this Gordian knot.

     I now most earnestly entreat you to write to me, without fail, by
     the return of the post. Direct your letter to be left at the
     post-office, and tell me whether you will come to me here, or where
     you will meet me. I can receive your letter on Wednesday morning.

     Do not keep me in suspense. I expect nothing from you, or any human
     being; my die is cast! I have fortitude enough to determine to do
     my duty; yet I cannot raise my depressed spirits, or calm my
     trembling heart. That being who moulded it thus knows that I am
     unable to tear up by the roots the propensity to affection which
     has been the torment of my life,--but life will have an end!

     Should you come here (a few months ago I could not have doubted it)
     you will find me at ----. If you prefer meeting me on the road,
     tell me where.

       Yours affectionately,

The result of this letter was that Imlay and Mary tried to retie the
broken thread of their domestic relations. The latter went up to London,
and they settled together in lodgings. It would have been better for her
had she never seen him again. The fire of his love had burnt out. No
power could rekindle it. His indifference was hard to bear; but so long
as he assured her that he had formed no other attachment, she made no
complaint. For Fanny's sake she endured the new bitterness, and found
such poor comfort as she could in being with him. It was but too true
that the constancy of her affection was the torment of her life. In spite
of everything, she still loved him. Before long, however, she discovered
through her servants that he was basely deceiving her. He was keeping up
a separate establishment for a new mistress. Mary, following the impulse
of the moment, went at once to this house, where she found him. The
particulars of their interview are not known; but her wretchedness during
the night which followed maddened her. His perfidy hurt her more deeply
than his indifference. Her cup of sorrow was filled to overflowing, and
for the second time she made up her mind to fly from a world which held
nothing but misery for her. It may be concluded that for the time being
she was really mad. It will be remembered that troubles of a kindred
nature had driven Mrs. Bishop to insanity. All the Wollstonecrafts
inherited a peculiarly excitable temperament. Mary, had she not lost all
self-control, would have been deterred from suicide, as she had been from
thoughts of it in Sweden, by her love for Fanny. But her grief was so
great it drowned all memory and reason. The morning after this night of
agony she wrote to Imlay:--

     "I write you now on my knees, imploring you to send my child and
     the maid with ---- to Paris, to be consigned to the care of Madame
     ----, Rue ----, Section de ----. Should they be removed, ---- can
     give their direction.

     "Let the maid have all my clothes, without distinction.

     "Pray pay the cook her wages, and do not mention the confession
     which I forced from her; a little sooner or later is of no
     consequence. Nothing but my extreme stupidity could have rendered
     me blind so long. Yet, whilst you assured me that you had no
     attachment, I thought we might still have lived together.

     "I shall make no comments on your conduct or any appeal to the
     world. Let my wrongs sleep with me! Soon, very soon, I shall be at
     peace. When you receive this, my burning head will be cold.

     "I would encounter a thousand deaths, rather than a night like the
     last. Your treatment has thrown my mind into a state of chaos; yet
     I am serene. I go to find comfort; and my only fear is that my poor
     body will be insulted by an endeavor to recall my hated existence.
     But I shall plunge into the Thames where there is the least chance
     of my being snatched from the death I seek.

     "God bless you! May you never know by experience what you have made
     me endure. Should your sensibility ever awake, remorse will find
     its way to your heart; and, in the midst of business and sensual
     pleasures, I shall appear before you, the victim of your deviation
     from rectitude."

Then she left her house to seek refuge in the waters of the river. She
went first to Battersea Bridge, but it was too public for her purpose.
She could not risk a second frustration of her designs. There was no
place in London where she could be unobserved. With the calmness of
despair, she hired a boat and rowed to Putney. It was a cold, foggy
November day, and by the time she arrived at her destination the night
had come, and the rain fell in torrents. An idea occurred to her: if she
wet her clothes thoroughly before jumping into the river, their weight
would make her sink rapidly. She walked up and down, up and down, the
bridge in the driving rain. The fog enveloped the night in a gloom as
impenetrable as that of her heart. No one passed to interrupt her
preparations. At the end of half an hour, satisfied that her end was
accomplished, she leaped from the bridge into the water below. Despite
her soaked clothing, she did not sink at once. In her desperation she
pressed her skirts around her; then she became unconscious. She was
found, however, before it was too late. Vigorous efforts were made to
restore life, and she was brought back to consciousness. She had met with
the insult she most dreaded, and her disappointment was keen. Her failure
only increased her determination to destroy herself. This she told Imlay
in a letter written shortly after, dated November, 1795:--

     "I have only to lament that, when the bitterness of death was past,
     I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery. But a fixed
     determination is not to be baffled by disappointment: nor will I
     allow that to be a frantic attempt which was one of the calmest
     acts of reason. In this respect I am only accountable to myself.
     Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other
     circumstances that I should be dishonored.

     "You say 'that you know not how to extricate ourselves out of the
     wretchedness into which we have been plunged.' You are extricated
     long since. But I forbear to comment. If I am condemned to live
     longer it is a living death.

     "It appears to me that you lay much more stress on delicacy than on
     principle; for I am unable to discover what sentiment of delicacy
     would have been violated by your visiting a wretched friend, if
     indeed you have any friendship for me. But since your new
     attachment is the only sacred thing in your eyes, I am silent. Be
     happy! My complaints shall never more damp your enjoyment; perhaps
     I am mistaken in supposing that even my death could, for more than
     a moment. This is what you call magnanimity. It is happy for
     yourself that you possess this quality in the highest degree.

     "Your continually asserting that you will do all in your power to
     contribute to my comfort, when you only allude to pecuniary
     assistance, appears to me a flagrant breach of delicacy. I want
     not such vulgar comfort, nor will I accept it. I never wanted but
     your heart. That gone, you have nothing more to give. Had I only
     poverty to fear, I should not shrink from life. Forgive me, then,
     if I say that I shall consider any direct or indirect attempt to
     supply my necessities as an insult which I have not merited, and as
     rather done out of tenderness for your own reputation than for me.
     Do not mistake me. I do not think that you value money; therefore I
     will not accept what you do not care for, though I do much less,
     because certain privations are not painful to me. When I am dead,
     respect for yourself will make you take care of the child.

     "I write with difficulty; probably I shall never write to you
     again. Adieu!

     "God bless you!"

Imlay, whose departure to his other house Mary construed into abandonment
of her, made, in spite of this letter, many inquiries as to her health
and tranquillity, repeated his offers of pecuniary assistance, and, at
the request of mutual acquaintances, even went to see her. But a _show_
of interest was not what she wanted, and her thanks for it was the
assurance that before long she would be where he would be saved the
trouble of either talking or thinking of her. Fortunately Mr. Johnson and
her other friends interfered actively in her behalf, and by their
arguments and representations prevailed upon her to relinquish the idea
of suicide. Through their kindness, the fever which consumed her was
somewhat abated. Her temporary madness over, she again remembered her
responsibility as a mother, and realized that true courage consists in
facing a foe, and not in flying from it. Of the change in her intentions
for the future she informed Imlay:--

       LONDON, November, 1795.

     Mr. Johnson having forgot to desire you to send the things of mine
     which were left at the house, I have to request you to let
     Marguerite bring them to me.

     I shall go this evening to the lodging; so you need not be
     restrained from coming here to transact your business. And whatever
     I may think and feel, you need not fear that I shall publicly
     complain. No! If I have any criterion to judge of right and wrong,
     I have been most ungenerously treated; but wishing now only to hide
     myself, I shall be silent as the grave in which I long to forget
     myself. I shall protect and provide for my child. I only mean by
     this to say that you have nothing to fear from my desperation.


Godwin makes the incredible statement that Imlay refusing to break off
his new connection, though he declared it to be of a temporary nature,
Mary proposed that she should live in the same house with his mistress.
In this way he would not be separated from his child, and she would
quietly wait the end of his intrigue. Imlay, according to Godwin,
consented to her suggestion, but afterwards thought better of it and
refused. There is not a word in her letters to confirm this extraordinary
story. It is simply impossible that at one moment she should have been
driven to suicide by the knowledge that he had a mistress, and that at
the next she should take a step which was equivalent to countenancing his
conduct. It is more rational to conclude that Godwin was misinformed,
than to believe this.

Towards the end of November Imlay went to Paris with the woman for whom
he had sacrificed wife and child. Mary felt that the end had now really
come, as is seen in the few letters which still remain. Once the first
bitterness of her disappointment had been mastered, the old tenderness
revived, and she renewed her excuses for him. "My affection for you is
rooted in my heart," she wrote fondly and sadly. "I know you are not what
you now seem, nor will you always act and feel as you now do, though I
may never be comforted by the change." And in another letter she said,
"Resentment and even anger are momentary emotions with me, and I wish to
tell you so, that if you ever think of me, it may not be in the light of
an enemy." Writing to him, however, was more than she could bear. Each
letter reopened the wound he had inflicted, and inspired her with a wild
desire to see him. She therefore wisely concluded that all correspondence
between them must cease. In December, 1795, while he was still in Paris,
she bade him her last farewell, though in so doing she was, as she says,
piercing her own heart. She refused to hold further communication with
him or to receive his money, but she told him she would not interfere in
anything he might wish to do for Fanny. Here it may be said that, though
Imlay declared that a certain sum should be settled upon the latter, not
a cent of it was ever paid. This is Mary's last letter to him:--

       LONDON, December, 1795.

     You must do as you please with respect to the child. I could wish
     that it might be done soon, that my name may be no more mentioned
     to you. It is now finished. Convinced that you have neither regard
     nor friendship, I disdain to utter a reproach, though I have had
     reason to think that the "forbearance" talked of has not been very
     delicate. It is, however, of no consequence. I am glad you are
     satisfied with your own conduct.

     I now solemnly assure you that this is an eternal farewell. Yet I
     flinch not from the duties which tie me to life.

     That there is "sophistry," on one side or other, is certain; but
     now it matters not on which. On my part it has not been a question
     of words. Yet your understanding or mine must be strangely warped,
     for what you term "delicacy" appears to me to be exactly the
     contrary. I have no criterion for morality, and have thought in
     vain, if the sensations which lead you to follow an ankle or step
     be the sacred foundation of principle and affection. Mine has been
     of a very different nature, or it would not have stood the brunt of
     your sarcasms.

     The sentiment in me is still sacred. If there be any part of me
     that will survive the sense of my misfortunes, it is the purity of
     my affections. The impetuosity of your senses may have led you to
     term mere animal desire the source of principle; and it may give
     zest to some years to come. Whether you will always think so, I
     shall never know.

     It is strange that, in spite of all you do, something like
     conviction forces me to believe that you are not what you appear to

     I part with you in peace.

She saw him once or twice afterwards. When he came to London again,
Godwin says that "she could not restrain herself from making another
effort, and desiring to see him once more. During his absence, affection
had led her to make numberless excuses for his conduct, and she probably
wished to believe that his present connection was, as he represented it,
purely of a casual nature. To this application she observes that he
returned no other answer, except declaring, with unjustifiable passion,
that he would not see her."

They did meet, however, but their meeting was accidental. Imlay was one
day paying a visit to Mr. Christie, who had returned to London, and with
whom he had business relations. He was sitting in the parlor, when Mary
called. Mrs. Christie, hearing her voice, and probably fearing an
embarrassing scene, hurried out to warn her of his presence, and to
advise her not to come in the room. But Mary, not heeding her, entered
fearlessly, and, with Fanny by the hand, went up and spoke to Imlay. They
retired, it seems, to another room, and he then promised to see her
again, and indeed to dine with her at her lodgings on the following day.
He kept his promise, and there was a second interview, but it did not
lead to a reconciliation. The very next day she went into Berkshire,
where she spent the month of March with her friend, Mrs. Cotton. She
never again made the slightest attempt to see him or to hear from him.
There was a limit even to her affection and forbearance. One day, after
her return to town, she was walking along the New Road when Imlay passed
her on horseback. He jumped off his horse and walked with her for some
little distance. This was the last time they met. From that moment he
passed completely out of her life.

And so ends the saddest of all sad love stories.




The first volume of "An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and
Progress of the French Revolution, and the Effect it has produced in
Europe," which Mary wrote during the months she lived in France, was
published by Johnson in 1794. It was favorably received and criticised,
especially by that portion of the public who had sympathized with the
Revolutionists in the controversy with Burke. One admirer, in 1803,
declared it was not second even to Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire." It went very quickly through two editions, surest proof of
its success. The "Analytical Review" called it

     "... a work of uncommon merit, abounding with strong traits of
     original genius, and containing a great variety of just and
     important observations on the recent affairs of France and on the
     general interests of society at the present crisis."

Mary had apparently spent in idleness the years which had elapsed since
the "Rights of Women" had taken England by storm. But in reality she must
have made good use of them. This new book marks an enormous advance in
her mental development. It is but little disfigured by the faults of
style, and is never weakened by the lack of method, which detract from
the strength and power of the work by which she is best known. In the
"French Revolution" her arguments are well weighed and balanced, and
flowers of rhetoric, with a few exceptions, are sacrificed for a simple
and concise statement of facts. Unfortunately the first volume was never
followed by a second. Had Mary finished the book, as she certainly
intended to do when she began it, it probably would still be ranked with
the standard works on the Revolution.

As the title demonstrates, her object in writing this history was to
explain the moral significance, as well as the historical value, of the
incidents which she recorded. This moral element is uppermost in every
page of her book. The determination to discover the truth at all hazards
is its key-note. This end Mary hoped to accomplish, first by tracing the
French troubles to their real causes, and then by giving an unprejudiced
account of them. The result of a thorough study and investigation of her
subject was the formation of doctrines which are in close sympathy with
those of the evolutionists of to-day. Nothing strikes the reader so much
as her firm belief in the theory of development, and her conclusion
therefrom that progress in government consists in the gradual
substitution of altruistic principles for the egotism which was the
primal foundation of law and order. Profession of this creed is at once
made in both the preface and first chapter of the "French Revolution." In
the former, she writes:--

     "By ... attending to circumstances, we shall be able to discern
     clearly that the Revolution was neither produced by the abilities
     or the intrigues of a few individuals, nor was the effect of sudden
     and short-lived enthusiasm; but the natural consequence of
     intellectual improvement, gradually proceeding to perfection in the
     advancement of communities from a state of barbarism to that of
     polished society."

In considering this subject, she concludes that the civilization of the
ancients was deficient because it paid more attention to the cultivation
of taste in the few than to the development of understanding in the many,
and that that of the moderns is superior to it because of the more
general diffusion of knowledge which followed the invention of printing.
Her arguments in support of her theories are excellent.

     "When," she writes, "learning was confined to a small number of the
     citizens of a state, and the investigation of its privileges was
     left to a number still smaller, governments seem to have acted as
     if the people were formed only for them; and ingeniously
     confounding their rights with metaphysical jargon, the luxurious
     grandeur of individuals has been supported by the misery of the
     bulk of their fellow-creatures, and ambition gorged by the butchery
     of millions of innocent victims."

This despotism, she further asserts, always continues so long as men are
unqualified to judge with precision of their civil and political rights.
But once they begin to think, and hence to learn the true facts of
history, they must discover that the first social systems were founded on
passion,--"individuals wishing to fence round their own wealth or power,
and make slaves of their brothers to prevent encroachment,"--and that the
laws of society could not have been originally "adjusted so as to take in
the future conduct of its members, because the faculties of man are
unfolded and perfected by the improvements made by society." This
knowledge necessarily destroys belief in the sanctity of prescription,
and when once it is made the basis of government, the ruling powers will
have as much consideration for the rights of others as for their own.

     "When society was first subjugated to laws," she writes, "probably
     by the ambition of some, and the desire of safety in all, it was
     natural for men to be selfish, because they were ignorant how
     intimately their own comfort was connected with that of others; and
     it was also very natural that humanity, rather the effect of
     feeling than of reason, should have a very limited range. But when
     men once see clear as the light of heaven--and I hail the glorious
     day from afar!--that on the general happiness depends their own,
     reason will give strength to the fluttering wings of passion, and
     men will 'do unto others what they wish they should do unto them.'"

One of the first means, therefore, by which this much-to-be-desired end
is to be attained, is the destruction of blind reverence of the past.

With uncompromising honesty, she says:--

     "We must get entirely clear of all the notions drawn from the wild
     traditions of original sin: the eating of the apple, the theft of
     Prometheus, the opening of Pandora's box, and the other fables too
     tedious to enumerate, on which priests have erected their
     tremendous structures of imposition to persuade us that we are
     naturally inclined to evil. We shall then leave room for the
     expansion of the human heart, and, I trust, find that men will
     insensibly render each other happier as they grow wiser."

After a brief analysis of the laws of progress in general, Mary proceeds
to their special application in the case of France. The illumination of
the French people she believes was hastened by the efforts of such men,
on the one hand, as Rousseau and Voltaire, who warred against
superstition, and on the other, as Quesnay and Turgot, who opposed unjust
taxation. It was through them that the nation awoke to a consciousness of
its wrongs, and saw for the first time, in the clear light of truth, the
inveterate pride of the nobles, the rapacity of the clergy, and the
prodigality of the court. The farmer then realized to the full the
injustice of a government which could calmly allow taxes and feudal
claims to swallow all but the twentieth part of the profit of his labor.
Citizens discovered the iniquity of laws which gave so little security to
their lives and property, that these could be sported with impunity by
the aristocracy. In a word, the people found that without a pretext of
justice, they were forced to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for a
chosen few. Once enlightened they rebelled against the nobles who treated
them as beasts of burden and trod them under foot with the mud; and they
boldly demanded their rights as human beings and as citizens.

Having thus given the _raison d'être_ of the great French crisis, she
describes with striking energy the events which ensued. She makes
manifest the folly and blindness of the court, the shortcomings and vile
intrigues of ministers, the duplicity and despotism of the parliaments,
which prevented the petitions and demands of the people from receiving
the attention and consideration which alone could have satisfied them.
That there were evils in the French government, not even its friends
could deny. The recognition of them necessitated their being done away
with. There were but two methods by which this could be accomplished:
they must either be reformed or destroyed. The government refused to
accept the first course; the people resolved to adopt the second. Mary's
treatment of this question is interesting. The following passage contains
her chief arguments upon the subject, and the conclusion she drew from
them, so very different from the result of Burke's reasoning on the same
point in the "Reflections." This passage is an excellent specimen of the
style in which the book is written. The hasty measures of the French, she
says, being worthy of philosophical investigation, fall into two distinct

     "First, if from the progress of reason we be authorized to infer
     that all governments will be meliorated, and the happiness of man
     placed on the solid basis gradually prepared by the improvement of
     political science; if the degrading distinctions of rank, born in
     barbarism and nourished by chivalry, be really becoming in the
     estimation of all sensible people so contemptible, that a modest
     man, in the course of fifty years, would probably blush at being
     thus distinguished; if the complexion of manners in Europe be
     completely changed from what it was half a century ago, and the
     liberty of its citizens tolerably secured; if every day extending
     freedom be more firmly established in consequence of the general
     dissemination of truth and knowledge,--it then seems injudicious
     for statesmen to force the adoption of any opinion, by aiming at
     the speedy destruction of obstinate prejudices; because these
     premature reforms, instead of promoting, destroy the comfort of
     those unfortunate beings who are under their dominion, affording at
     the same time to despotism the strongest arguments to urge in
     opposition to the theory of reason. Besides, the objects intended
     to be forwarded are probably retarded, whilst the tumult of
     internal commotion and civil discord leads to the most dreadful
     consequence,--the immolating of human victims.

     "But, secondly, it is necessary to observe, that, if the degeneracy
     of the higher orders of society be such that no remedy less fraught
     with horror can effect a radical cure; and if, enjoying the fruits
     of usurpation, they domineer over the weak, and check, by all the
     means in their power, every humane effort to draw man out of the
     state of degradation into which the inequality of fortune has sunk
     him; the people are justified in having recourse to coercion to
     repel coercion. And, further, if it can be ascertained that the
     silent sufferings of the citizens of the world are greater, though
     less obvious, than the calamities produced by such violent
     convulsions as have happened in France, which, like hurricanes
     whirling over the face of nature, strip off all its blooming
     graces, it may be politically just to pursue such measures as were
     taken by that regenerating country, and at once root out those
     deleterious plants which poison the better half of human

Among the most remarkable passages in the book are those relating to
Marie Antoinette. As was the case when she wrote her answer to Burke, the
misery of millions unjustly subjected moved Mary more than the woes of
one woman justly deprived of an ill-used liberty. Her love and sympathy
for the people made her perhaps a little too harsh in her judgment of the
queen. "Some hard words, some very strong epithets, are indeed used of
Marie Antoinette," Mr. Kegan Paul says in his short but appreciative
criticism of this book, "showing that she, who could in those matters
know nothing personally, could not but depend on Paris gossip; but this
is interesting, as showing what the view taken of the queen was before
passion rose to its highest, before the fury of the people, with all the
ferocity of word and deed attendant on great popular movements, had
broken out." The following lines, therefore, reflecting the feelings and
opinions of the day, must be read with as much, if not more interest than
those of later and better-informed historians:--

     "The unfortunate Queen of France, beside the advantages of birth
     and station, possessed a very fine person; and her lovely face,
     sparkling with vivacity, hid the want of intelligence. Her
     complexion was dazzlingly clear; and when she was pleased, her
     manners were bewitching; for she happily mingled the most
     insinuating voluptuous softness and affability with an air of
     grandeur bordering on pride, that rendered the contrast more
     striking. Independence also, of whatever kind, always gives a
     degree of dignity to the mien; so that monarchs and nobles with
     most ignoble souls, from believing themselves superior to others,
     have actually acquired a look of superiority.

     "But her opening faculties were poisoned in the bud; for before she
     came to Paris she had already been prepared, by a corrupt, supple
     abbé, for the part she was to play; and, young as she was, became
     so firmly attached to the aggrandizement of her house, that, though
     plunged deep in pleasure, she never omitted sending immense sums to
     her brother on every occasion. The person of the king, in itself
     very disgusting, was rendered more so by gluttony, and a total
     disregard of delicacy, and even decency, in his apartments; and
     when jealous of the queen, for whom he had a kind of devouring
     passion, he treated her with great brutality, till she acquired
     sufficient finesse to subjugate him. Is it then surprising that a
     very desirable woman, with a sanguine constitution, should shrink,
     abhorrent, from his embraces; or that an empty mind should be
     employed only to vary the pleasures which emasculated her Circean
     court? And, added to this, the histories of the Julias and
     Messalinas of antiquity convincingly prove that there is no end to
     the vagaries of the imagination, when power is unlimited, and
     reputation set at defiance.

     "Lost, then, in the most luxurious pleasures, or managing court
     intrigues, the queen became a profound dissembler; and her heart
     was hardened by sensual enjoyments to such a degree that, when her
     family and favorites stood on the brink of ruin, her little portion
     of mind was employed only to preserve herself from danger. As a
     proof of the justness of this assertion, it is only necessary to
     observe that, in the general wreck, not a scrap of her writing has
     been found to criminate her; neither has she suffered a word to
     escape her to exasperate the people, even when burning with rage
     and contempt. The effect that adversity may have on her choked
     understanding, time will show [this was written some months before
     the death of the queen]; but, during her prosperity, the moments of
     languor that glide into the interstices of enjoyment were passed in
     the most childish manner, without the appearance of any vigor of
     mind to palliate the wanderings of the imagination. Still, she was
     a woman of uncommon address; and though her conversation was
     insipid, her compliments were so artfully adapted to flatter the
     person she wished to please or dupe, and so eloquent is the beauty
     of a queen, in the eyes even of superior men, that she seldom
     failed to carry her point when she endeavored to gain an ascendency
     over the mind of an individual. Over that of the king she acquired
     unbounded sway, when, managing the disgust she had for his person,
     she made him pay a kingly price for her favors. A court is the best
     school in the world for actors; it was very natural then for her to
     become a complete actress, and an adept in all the arts of coquetry
     that debauch the mind, whilst they render the person alluring."

Mary's inflexible hatred of the cruelty of the court and the nobility,
which had led to the present horrors, though great, did not prevent her
from seeing the tyranny and brutality in which the people indulged so
soon as they obtained the mastery. Her treatment of the facts of the
Revolution is characterized by honesty. She is above all else an
impartial historian and philosopher. She distinguishes, it is true,
between the well-meaning multitude--those who took the Bastille, for
example--and the rabble composed of the dregs of society,--those who
headed the march to Versailles. She declares, "There has been seen
amongst the French a spurious race of men, a set of cannibals, who have
gloried in their crimes; and, tearing out the hearts that did not feel
for them, have proved that they themselves had iron bowels." But while
she makes this distinction, she does not hesitate to admit that the
retaliation of the French people, suddenly all become sovereigns, was as
terrible as that of slaves unexpectedly loosed from their fetters. It is
but fair, after quoting her denunciations of Marie Antoinette, to show
how far the new rule was from receiving her unqualified approbation.
Describing the silence and ruin which have succeeded the old-time gayety
and grandeur of Versailles, she exclaims:--

     "Weeping, scarcely conscious that I weep, O France! over the
     vestiges of thy former oppression, which, separating man from man
     with a fence of iron, sophisticated all, and made many completely
     wretched, I tremble, lest I should meet some unfortunate being,
     fleeing from the despotism of licentious freedom, hearing the snap
     of the _guillotine_ at his heels, merely because he was once noble,
     or has afforded an asylum to those whose only crime is their name;
     and, if my pen almost bound with eagerness to record the day that
     levelled the Bastille with the dust, making the towers of despair
     tremble to their base, the recollection that still the abbey is
     appropriated to hold the victims of revenge and suspicion palsies
     the hand that would fain do justice to the assault, which tumbled
     into heaps of ruins, walls that seemed to mock the resistless force
     of time. Down fell the temple of despotism; but--despotism has not
     been buried in its ruins! Unhappy country! when will thy children
     cease to tear thy bosom? When will a change of opinion, producing a
     change of morals, render thee truly free? When will truth give life
     to real magnanimity, and justice place equality on a stable seat?
     When will thy sons trust, because they deserve to be trusted; and
     private virtue become the guarantee of patriotism? Ah! when will
     thy government become the most perfect, because thy citizens are
     the most virtuous?"

The same impartiality is preserved in the relation of even the most
exciting and easily misconceived incidents of the Revolution. The
courageous and resolute resistance of the Third Estate to the clergy and
nobility is described with dignified praise which never descends into
fulsome flattery. The ignorance, vanity, jealousy, disingenuousness,
self-sufficiency, and interested motives of members of the National
Assembly are unhesitatingly exposed in recording such of their actions
as, examined superficially, might seem the outcome of a love of freedom.
In giving the details of the taking of the Bastille, and the women's
march on Versailles, Mary becomes really eloquent. Mr. Kegan Paul's
opinion may be here advantageously cited. "Her accounts of the Bastille
siege and of the Versailles episode," he says, "are worth reading beside
those of the master to whose style they are so great a contrast. Carlyle
has seized on the comic element in the march to Versailles, Mary
Wollstonecraft on the tragic; and hers seems to me the worthier view."

Many of the remarks upon civilization and the influence of the
cultivation of science on the understanding, with which the book is
interspersed, are full of wisdom and indicative of deep thought and
careful research. Hers was, to use with but slight change the words with
which she concludes, the philosophical eye, which, looking into the
nature and weighing the consequence of human actions, is able to discern
the cause which has produced so many dreadful effects.

Notwithstanding its excellence and the reputation it once had, this work
is now almost unknown. But few have ever heard of it, still fewer read
it; a fact due, of course, to its incompleteness. The first and only
volume ends with the departure of Louis from Versailles to Paris, when
the Revolution was as yet in its earliest stages. This must ever be a
matter of regret. That succeeding volumes, had she written them, would
have been even better is very probable. There was marked development in
her intellectual powers after she published the "Rights of Women." The
increased merit of her later works somewhat confirms Southey's
declaration, made three years after her death, that "Mary Wollstonecraft
was but beginning to reason when she died."

The last book she finished and published during her life-time was her
"Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and
Denmark." Her journey, as has been explained in the last chapter, was
undertaken to attend to certain business affairs for Imlay. Landing in
Sweden, she went from there to Norway, then again to Sweden, and finally
to Denmark and Hamburg, in which latter places she remained a
comparatively short period. Not being free to go and come as she chose,
she was sometimes detained in small places for two or three weeks, while
she could stay but a day or two in large cities. But she had letters of
introduction to many of the principal inhabitants of the towns and
villages to which business called her, and was thus able to see something
of the life of the better classes. The then rough mode of travelling also
brought her into close contact with the peasantry. As the ground over
which she travelled was then but little visited by English people, she
knew that her letters would have at least the charm of novelty.

They were published by her friend Johnson in 1796. Hitherto, her work had
been purely of a philosophical, historical, or educational nature. The
familiar epistolary style in which she had begun to record her
observations of the French people had been quickly changed for the more
formal tone of the "French Revolution." These travels, consequently,
marked an entirely new departure in her literary career. Their success
was at once assured. Even the fastidious Godwin, who had condemned her
other books, could find no fault with this one. Contemporary critics
agreed in sharing his good opinion.

"Have you ever met with Mary Wollstonecraft's 'Letters from Sweden and
Norway'?" Southey asked in a letter to Thomas Southey. "She has made me
in love with a cold climate and frost and snow, with a northern
moonlight." The impression they produced was lasting. When, several years
later, he wrote an "Epistle" to A. S. Cottle to be published in the
latter's volume of "Icelandic Poetry," he again alluded to them. In
referring to the places described in northern poems he declared,--

    "... Scenes like these
    Have almost lived before me, when I gazed
    Upon their fair resemblance traced by him
    Who sung the banished man of Ardebeil,
    Or to the eye of Fancy held by her,
    Who among Women left no equal mind
    When from the world she passed; and I could weep
    To think that _She_ is to the grave gone down!"

The "Annual Register" for 1796 honored the "Letters" by publishing in its
columns a long extract from them containing a description of the
Norwegian character. The "Monthly Magazine" for July of the same year
concluded that the book, "though not written with studied elegance,
interests the reader in an uncommon degree by a philosophical turn of
thought, by bold sketches of nature and manners, and above all by strong
expressions of delicate sensibility." The verdict of the "Analytical
Review" was as follows:--

     "A vigorous and cultivated intellect easily accommodates itself to
     new occupations. The notion that individual genius can only excel
     in one thing is a vulgar error. A mind endued by nature with strong
     powers and quick sensibility, and by culture furnished in an
     uncommon degree with habits of attention and reflection, wherever
     it is placed will find itself employment, and whatever it
     undertakes will execute it well. After the repeated proofs which
     the ingenious and justly admired writer of these letters has given
     the public, that her talents are far above the ordinary level, it
     will not be thought surprising that she could excel in different
     kinds of writing; that the qualifications which have enabled her to
     instruct young people by moral lessons and tales, and to furnish
     the philosopher with original and important speculations, should
     also empower her to entertain and interest the public in a manner
     peculiarly her own by writing a book of travels.

     "We have no hesitation in assuring our readers that Mrs.
     Wollstonecraft has done this in the present volume."

The qualities most desirable in a writer of travels are quickness of
perception, active interest in the places and people described,
appreciation of local color, a nice sense of discrimination, and a
pleasant, simple style. It is true that occasionally affected and
involved phrases occur in Mary's letters from the North, and that the
tone of many passages is a trifle too sombre. But the former defects are
much less glaring and fewer in number than those of her earlier writings;
while, when it is remembered that during her journey her heart was
heavy-laden with disappointment and despair, her melancholy reflections
must be forgiven her. With the exception of these really trifling
shortcomings, she may be said to have ably fulfilled the required
conditions. It may be asserted of her, in almost the identical words
which Heine uses in praise of Goethe's "Italian Journey," that she,
during her travels, saw all things, the dark and the light, colored
nothing with her individual feelings, and pictured the land and its
people in the true outlines and true colors in which God clothed it.

Determined to avoid the mistake common to most travellers, of speaking
from feeling rather than from reason, she shows her readers the virtues
and faults of the people among whom she travelled, without overestimating
the former or exaggerating the latter. She found Swedes and Norwegians
unaffected and hospitable, but sensual and indolent. Both good and evil
she attributes to the influence of climate and to the comparatively low
stage of culture attained in these northern countries. The long winter
nights, she explains in her letters, have made the people sluggish. Their
want of interest in politics, literature, and scientific pursuits have
concentrated their attention upon the pleasures of the senses. They are
hospitable because of the excitement and social amusements hospitality
insures. They care for the flesh-pots of Egypt because they have not yet
heard of the joys of the Promised Land. The women of the upper classes
are so indolent that they exercise neither mind nor body; consequently
the former has but a narrow range, the latter soon loses all beauty. The
men seek no relaxation from their business occupations save in
Brobdingnagian dinners and suppers. If they are godly, they are never
cleanly, cleanliness requiring an effort of which they are incapable.
Indolence and indifference to culture throughout Sweden and Norway are
the chief characteristics of the natives.

To Mary the coarseness of the people seemed the more unbearable because
of the wonderful beauty of their country as she saw it in midsummer. She
could not understand their continued indifference to its loveliness. Her
own keen enjoyment of it shows itself in all her letters. She constantly
pauses in relating her experiences to dwell upon the grandeur of cliffs
and sea, upon the impressive wildness of certain districts, full of great
pine-covered mountains and endless fir woods, contrasting with others
more gentle and fertile, which are covered with broad fields of corn and
rye. She loves to describe the long still summer nights and the gray
dawn when the birds begin to sing, the sweet scents of the forest, and
the soft freshness of the western breeze. The smallest details of the
living picture do not escape her notice. She records the musical tinkling
of distant cow-bells and the mournful cry of the bittern. She even tells
how she sometimes, when she is out in her boat, lays down her oars that
she may examine the purple masses of jelly-fish floating in the water.
Truly, her ways were not as those of the Philistines around her.

The following extract from a letter written from Gothenburg gives a good
idea of the impression made upon her by the moral ugliness and natural
beauty which she met wherever she went. The passage is characteristic,
since its themes are the two to which she most frequently recurs:--

     "... Every day, before dinner and supper, even whilst the dishes
     are cooling on the table, men and women repair to a side-table,
     and, to obtain an appetite, eat bread and butter, cheese, raw
     salmon or anchovies, drinking a glass of brandy. Salt fish or meat
     then immediately follows, to give a further whet to the stomach. As
     the dinner advances,--pardon me for taking up a few minutes to
     describe what, alas! has detained me two or three hours on the
     stretch, observing,--dish after dish is changed, in endless
     rotation, and handed round with solemn pace to each guest; but
     should you happen not to like the first dishes, which was often my
     case, it is a gross breach of politeness to ask for part of any
     other till its turn comes. But have patience, and there will be
     eating enough. Allow me to run over the acts of a visiting day, not
     overlooking the interludes.

     "Prelude, a luncheon; then a succession of fish, flesh, and fowl
     for two hours; during which time the dessert--I was sorry for the
     strawberries and cream--rests on the table to be impregnated by the
     fumes of the viands. Coffee immediately follows in the
     drawing-room, but does not preclude punch, ale, tea and cakes, raw
     salmon, etc. A supper brings up the rear, not forgetting the
     introductory luncheon, almost equalling in removes the dinner. A
     day of this kind you would imagine sufficient--but a to-morrow and
     a to-morrow. A never-ending, still-beginning feast may be bearable,
     perhaps, when stern Winter frowns, shaking with chilling aspect his
     hoary locks; but during a summer sweet as fleeting, let me, my kind
     strangers, escape sometimes into your fir groves, wander on the
     margin of your beautiful lakes, or climb your rocks to view still
     others in endless perspective; which, piled by more than giant's
     hand, scale the heavens to intercept its rays, or to receive the
     parting tinge of lingering day,--day that, scarcely softened into
     twilight, allows the freshening breeze to wake, and the moon to
     burst forth in all her glory to glide with solemn elegance through
     the azure expanse.

     "The cow's bell has ceased to tinkle the herd to rest; they have all
    paced across the heath. Is not this the witching time of night? The
    waters murmur, and fall with more than mortal music, and spirits of
    peace walk abroad to calm the agitated breast. Eternity is in these
    moments; worldly cares melt into the airy stuff that dreams are made
    of; and reveries, mild and enchanting as the first hopes of love, or
    the recollection of lost enjoyment, carry the hapless wight into
    futurity, who, in bustling life, has vainly strove to throw off the
    grief which lies heavy at the heart. Good-night! A crescent hangs
    out in the vault before, which wooes me to stray abroad: it is not a
    silvery reflection of the sun, but glows with all its golden
    splendor. Who fears the falling dew? It only makes the mown grass
    smell more fragrant."

As might be expected, judging from Mary's natural benevolence, the
poverty and misery she saw during her journey awakened feelings of deep
compassion. She describes in tones of pity the wretched condition of the
lower classes in Sweden. Servants, she writes, are no better than slaves.
They are beaten and maltreated by their masters, and are paid so little
that they cannot afford to wear sufficient clothing or to eat decent
food. Laborers live in huts wretched beyond belief, and herd together
like animals. They have so accustomed themselves to a stifling
atmosphere, that fresh air is never let into their houses even in summer,
and the mere idea of cleanliness is beyond their comprehension. Indolence
is their failing as well as that of their superiors in rank. Many in
their brutishness refuse to exert themselves save to find the food
absolutely necessary to support life, and are too sluggish to be curious.
It is pleasant to know that they have at least one good quality, in the
exercise of which they surpass the rich. This is politeness, the national
virtue. Mary observes:--

     "The Swedes pique themselves on their politeness; but far from
     being the polish of a cultivated mind, it consists merely of
     tiresome forms and ceremonies. So far indeed from entering
     immediately into your character, and making you feel instantly at
     your ease, like the well-bred French, their over-acted civility is
     a continual restraint on all your actions. The sort of superiority
     which a fortune gives when there is no superiority of education,
     excepting what consists in the observance of senseless forms, has a
     contrary effect than what is intended; so that I could not help
     reckoning the peasantry the politest people of Sweden, who, only
     aiming at pleasing you, never think of being admired for their

Mary found the condition of the Norwegians somewhat better. The lower
classes were freer, more industrious, and more opulent. She describes
their inns as comfortable, whereas those of the Swedes had not been even
inhabitable. The upper classes, though, like the Swedes, over-fond of the
pleasures of the table, narrow in their range of ideas, and wholly
without imagination, at least gave some signs of better days in their
dawning interest in culture. She writes:--

     "The Norwegians appear to me a sensible, shrewd people, with little
     scientific knowledge, and still less taste for literature; but they
     are arriving at the epoch which precedes the introduction of the
     arts and sciences.

     "Most of the towns are seaports, and seaports are not favorable to
     improvement. The captains acquire a little superficial knowledge by
     travelling, which their indefatigable attention to the making of
     money prevents their digesting; and the fortune that they thus
     laboriously acquire is spent, as it usually is in towns of this
     description, in show and good living. They love their country, but
     have not much public spirit. Their exertions are, generally
     speaking, only for their families; which I conceive will always be
     the case, till politics, becoming a subject of discussion, enlarges
     the heart by opening the understanding. The French Revolution will
     have this effect. They sing at present, with great glee, many
     republican songs, and seem earnestly to wish that the republic may
     stand; yet they appear very much attached to their prince royal;
     and, as far as rumor can give an idea of character, he appears to
     merit their attachment."

She remained in Copenhagen and Hamburg but a short time. Imlay's
unkindness and indecision had, by the time she reached Holland, so
increased her melancholy that the good effect of the bracing northern air
was partially destroyed. She lost her interest in the novelty of her
surroundings, and as she says in one of her last letters, stayed much at
home. But her perceptive faculties were not wholly deadened. She notes
with her usual precision the indolence and dulness of the Danes, and the
unwavering devotion of the Hamburgers to commerce, and describes the
towns of Hamburg and Copenhagen with graphic force. These descriptions
are well worth reading.

It was always impossible for Mary not to reflect and moralize upon what
passed around her. She not only wanted to examine and record phenomena
and events, but to discover a reason for their existence. She invariably
sought for the primal causes and the final results of the facts in which
she was interested. The civilization of the northern countries through
which she travelled, so different from the culture of England and France,
gave her ample food for thought. The reflections it aroused found their
way into her letters. Some of them are really remarkable, as for example,
the following:--

     "Arriving at Sleswick, the residence of Prince Charles of
     Hesse-Cassel, the sight of the soldiers recalled all the unpleasing
     ideas of German despotism, which imperceptibly vanished as I
     advanced into the country. I viewed, with a mixture of pity and
     horror, these beings training to be sold to slaughter, or be
     slaughtered, and fell into reflections on an old opinion of mine,
     that it is the preservation of the species, not of individuals,
     which appears to be the design of the Deity throughout the whole of
     nature. Blossoms come forth only to be blighted; fish lay their
     spawn where it will be devoured; and what a large portion of the
     human race are born merely to be swept prematurely away! Does not
     this waste of budding life emphatically assert, that it is not men,
     but man, whose preservation is so necessary to the completion of
     the grand plan of the universe? Children peep into existence,
     suffer, and die; men play like moths about a candle, and sink into
     the flame; war and the 'thousand ills which flesh is heir to' mow
     them down in shoals, whilst the more cruel prejudices of society
     palsy existence, introducing not less sure, though slower decay."

Had Mary Wollstonecraft lived in the present time, she too would have
written hymns to Man. This is another of the many strange instances in
her writings of the resemblance between theories which she evolved for
herself and those of modern philosophers. She lived a century too soon.

The "Letters" were published in the same year, 1796, in Wilmington,
Delaware. A few years later, extracts from them, translated into
Portuguese, together with a brief sketch of their author, were published
in Lisbon, while a German edition appeared in Hamburg and Altona. The
book is now not so well known as it deserves to be. Mary's descriptions
of the physical characteristics of Norway and Sweden are equal to any
written by more recent English travellers to Scandinavia; and her account
of the people is valuable as an unprejudiced record of the manners and
customs existing among them towards the end of the eighteenth century.
But though so little known, it is still true that, as her self-appointed
defender said in 1803, "Letters so replete with correctness of remark,
delicacy of feeling, and pathos of expression, will cease to exist only
with the language in which they were written."

Shortly after her death, Godwin published in four volumes all Mary's
unprinted writings, unfinished as well as finished. This collection,
which is called simply "Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin,"
may most appropriately be noticed here in connection with the more
complete productions of her last years.

Of the "Letters to Imlay," which fill the third and a part of the fourth
volume, nothing more need be said. They have been fully explained, and
sufficient extracts from them have been made in the account of that
period of her life during which they were written. The next in importance
of these writings is "Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman," a novel. It is but
a fragment. Mary intended to revise the first chapters carefully, and of
the last she had written nothing but the headings and a few detached
hints and passages. Godwin, in his Preface, says, "So much of it as is
here given to the public, she was far from considering as finished; and
in a letter to a friend directly written on this subject, she says, 'I am
perfectly aware that some of the incidents ought to be transposed and
heightened by more luminous shading; and I wished in some degree to avail
myself of criticism before I began to adjust my events into a story, the
outline of which I had sketched in my mind.'" It therefore must be more
gently criticised than such of her books as were published during her
life-time, and considered by her ready to be given to the public. But, as
the last work upon which she was engaged, and as one which engrossed her
thoughts for months, and to which she devoted, for her, an unusual amount
of labor, it must be read with interest.

The incidents of the story are, in a large measure, drawn from real life.
Her own experience, that of her sister, and events which had come within
her actual knowledge, are the materials which she used. These served her
purpose as well as, if not better than, any she could have invented. The
only work of her imagination is the manner in which she grouped them
together to form her plot. The story is, briefly, as follows: Maria, the
heroine, whose home-life seems to be a description of the interior of the
Wollstonecraft household, marries to secure her freedom, rather than from
affection for her lover, as was probably the case with "poor Bess." Her
husband, who even in the days of courtship had been a dissolute rascal,
but hypocrite enough to conceal the fact, throws off his mask after
marriage. He speculates rashly, drinks, and indulges in every low vice.
All this she bears until he, calculating upon her endurance, seeks to
sell her to a friend, that her dishonor may be his gain financially. Then
he learns that he has gone too far. She flies from his house, to which
she refuses, on any consideration, to return. All attempts to bring her
back having failed, he, by a successful stratagem, seizes her as she is
on her way to Dover with her child, and, taking possession of the latter,
has his wife confined in an insane asylum. Here, after days of horror,
Maria succeeds in softening the heart of her keeper, Jemima by name, and
through her makes the acquaintance of Henry Darnford, a young man who,
like her, has been made a prisoner under the false charge of lunacy.
Jemima's friendship is so completely won that she allows these two
companions in misery to see much of each other. She even tells them her
story, which, as a picture of degradation, equals that of some of Defoe's
heroines. Darnford then tells his, and the reader at once recognizes in
him another Imlay. Finally, by a lucky accident the two prisoners make
their escape, and Jemima accompanies them. The latter part of the story
consists of sketches and the barest outlines; but these indicate the
succession of its events and its conclusion. Maria and Darnford live
together as husband and wife in London. The former believes that she is
right in so doing, and cares nothing for the condemnation of society. She
endures neglect and contumely because she is supported by confidence in
the rectitude of her conduct. Her husband now has her lover tried for
adultery and seduction, and in his absence Maria undertakes his defence.
Her separation from her husband is the consequence, but her fortune is
thrown into chancery. She refuses to leave Darnford, but he, after a few
years, during which she has borne him two children, proves unfaithful. In
her despair, she attempts to commit suicide, but fails. When
consciousness and reason return, she resolves to live for her child.

"Maria" is a story with a purpose. Its aim is the reformation of the
evils which result from the established relations of the sexes. Certain
rights are to be vindicated by a full exposition of the wrongs which
their absence causes. Mary wished, as her Preface sets forth, to exhibit
the misery and oppression peculiar to women, that arise out of the
partial laws and customs of society. "Maria," in fact, was to be a
forcible proof of the necessity of those social changes which she had
urged in the "Vindication of the Rights of Women." In the career of the
heroine the wrongs women suffer from matrimonial despotism and cruelty
are demonstrated; while that of Jemima shows how impossible it is for
poor or degraded women to find employment. The principal interest in the
book arises from the fact that in it Mary explains more definitely than
she had in any previous work, her views about the laws and restrictions
of matrimony. Otherwise the principles laid down in it do not differ from
those which she had already stated in print. Her justification of Maria's
conduct is in reality a declaration of her belief that cruelty,
depravity, and infidelity in a man are sufficient reasons for his wife to
separate herself from him, this separation requiring no legal permit; and
that a pure honest love sanctifies the union of two people which may not
have been confirmed by a civil or religious ceremony. The following
passage is a partial statement of these views, which proved very
exasperating to her contemporaries. It is the advice given to Maria,
after her flight, by a friendly uncle:--

     "The marriage state is certainly that in which women, generally
     speaking, can be most useful; but I am far from thinking that a
     woman, once married, ought to consider the engagement as
     indissoluble (especially if there be no children to reward her for
     sacrificing her feelings) in case her husband merits neither her
     love nor esteem. Esteem will often supply the place of love, and
     prevent a woman from being wretched, though it may not make her
     happy. The magnitude of a sacrifice ought always to bear some
     proportion to the utility in view; and for a woman to live with a
     man for whom she can cherish neither affection nor esteem, or even
     be of any use to him, excepting in the light of a housekeeper, is
     an abjectness of condition, the enduring of which no concurrence of
     circumstances can ever make a duty in the sight of God or just men.
     If indeed she submits to it merely to be maintained in idleness,
     she has no right to complain bitterly of her fate; or to act, as a
     person of independent character might, as if she had a title to
     disregard general rules.

     "But the misfortune is, that many women only submit in appearance,
     and forfeit their own respect to secure their reputation in the
     world. The situation of a woman separated from her husband is
     undoubtedly very different from that of a man who has left his
     wife. He, with lordly dignity, has shaken off a clog; and the
     allowing her food and raiment is thought sufficient to secure his
     reputation from taint. And, should she have been inconsiderate, he
     will be celebrated for his generosity and forbearance. Such is the
     respect paid to the master-key of property! A woman, on the
     contrary, resigning what is termed her natural protector (though he
     never was so but in name), is despised and shunned for asserting
     the independence of mind distinctive of a rational being, and
     spurning at slavery."

The incidents selected by Mary to prove her case are, it must be
admitted, disagreeable, and the minor details too frequently revolting.
The stories of Maria, Darnford, and Jemima are records of shame, crime,
and human bestiality little less unpleasant than the realism of a Zola.
It is an astonishing production, even for an age when Fielding and
Smollett were not considered coarse. But, as was the case in the "Rights
of Women," this plainness of speech was due not to a delight in impurity
and uncleanness for their own sakes, but to Mary's certainty that by the
proper use of subjects vile in themselves, she could best establish
principles of purity. Whatever may be thought of her moral creed and of
her manner of promulgating it, no reader of her books can deny her the
respect which her courage and sincerity evoke. One may mistrust the
mission of a Savonarola, and yet admire his inexorable adherence to it.
Mary Wollstonecraft's faith in, and devotion to, the doctrines she
preached was as firm and unflinching as those of any religiously
inspired prophet.

This story gives little indication of literary merit. The style is
stilted, and there is no attempt at delineation of character. It is
wholly without dramatic action; for this, Mary explains, would have
interfered with her main object. But then its straightforward statement
of facts, by concentrating the attention upon them, adds very strongly to
the impression they produce. Maria is as complete a departure from the
conventional heroine of the day, as, at a later period, Charlotte
Brontë's Rochester was from the heroes of contemporary novelists. And the
book contains at least one description which should find a place here.
This is the account Maria gives of a visit she makes to her country home
a few years after her marriage and realization of its bitterness, and is
really a record of the sentiments awakened in her when she visited
Beverly, her early home, just before she left England for Sweden. The
passage, in its contrast to the oppressive narrative which it interrupts,
is as refreshing as a cool sea-breeze after the suffocating sirocco of
the desert:--

     "This was the first time I had visited my native village since my
     marriage. But with what different emotions did I return from the
     busy world, with a heavy weight of experience benumbing my
     imagination, to scenes that whispered recollections of joy and hope
     most eloquently to my heart! The first scent of the wild-flowers
     from the heath thrilled through my veins, awakening every sense to
     pleasure. The icy hand of despair seemed to be removed from my
     bosom; and, forgetting my husband, the nurtured visions of a
     romantic mind, bursting on me with all their original wildness and
     gay exuberance, were again hailed as sweet realities. I forgot,
     with equal facility, that I ever felt sorrow or knew care in the
     country; while a transient rainbow stole athwart the cloudy sky of
     despondency. The picturesque forms of several favorite trees, and
     the porches of rude cottages, with their smiling hedges, were
     recognized with the gladsome playfulness of childish vivacity. I
     could have kissed the chickens that pecked on the common; and
     longed to pat the cows, and frolic with the dogs that sported on
     it. I gazed with delight on the wind-mill, and thought it lucky
     that it should be in motion at the moment I passed by: and entering
     the dear green lane which led directly to the village, the sound of
     the well-known rookery gave that sentimental tinge to the varying
     sensations of my active soul, which only served to heighten the
     lustre of the luxuriant scenery. But spying, as I advanced, the
     spire peeping over the withered tops of the aged elms that composed
     the rookery, my thoughts flew immediately to the church-yard; and
     tears of affection, such was the effect of my imagination, bedewed
     my mother's grave! Sorrow gave place to devotional feelings. I
     wandered through the church in fancy as I used sometimes to do on a
     Saturday evening. I recollected with what fervor I addressed the
     God of my youth; and once more with rapturous love looked above my
     sorrows to the Father of nature. I pause, feeling forcibly all the
     emotions I am describing; and (reminded, as I register my sorrows,
     of the sublime calm I have felt when, in some tremendous solitude,
     my soul rested on itself, and seemed to fill the universe) I
     insensibly breathe softly, hushing every wayward emotion, as if
     fearing to sully with a sigh a contentment so ecstatic."

"Maria" seemed to many of its readers an unanswerable proof of the charge
of immorality brought against its authoress. Mrs. West, in her "Letters
to a Young Man," pointed to it as evidence of Mary's unfitness for the
world beyond the grave. The "Biographical Dictionary" undoubtedly
referred to it when it declared that much of the four volumes of Mary's
posthumous writings "had better been suppressed, as ill calculated to
excite sympathy for one who seems to have rioted in sentiments alike
repugnant to religion, sense, and decency." Modern readers have been
kinder. The following is Miss Mathilde Blind's criticism, which, though a
little too enthusiastic perhaps, shows a keen appreciation of the
redeeming merits of the book:--

     "For originality of invention, tragic incident, and a certain fiery
     eloquence of style, this is certainly the most remarkable and
     mature of her works, although one may object that for a novel the
     moral purpose is far too obvious, the manner too generalized, and
     many of the situations revolting to the taste of a modern reader.
     But, with all its faults, it is a production that, in the
     implacable truth with which it lays open the festering sores of
     society, in the unshrinking courage with which it drags into the
     light of day the wrongs the feeble have to suffer at the hands of
     the strong, in the fiery enthusiasm with which it lifts up its
     voice for the voiceless outcasts, may be said to resemble 'Les
     Misérables,' by Victor Hugo."

The other contents of these four volumes are as follows: a series of
lessons in spelling and reading, which, because prepared especially for
her "unfortunate child," Fanny Imlay, are an interesting relic; the
"Letters on the French Nation," mentioned in a previous chapter; a
fragment and list of proposed "Letters on the Management of Infants;"
several letters to Mr. Johnson, the most important of which have been
already given; the "Cave of Fancy," an Oriental tale, as Godwin calls
it,--the story of an old philosopher who lives in a desolate sea-coast
district and there seeks to educate a child, saved from a shipwreck, by
means of the spirits under his command (the few chapters Godwin thought
proper to print were written in 1787, and then put aside, never to be
finished); an "Essay on Poetry, and Our Relish for the Beauties of
Nature," a short discussion of the difference between the poetry of the
ancients, who recorded their own impressions from nature, and that of the
moderns, who are too apt to express sentiments borrowed from books (this
essay was published in the "Monthly Magazine" for April, 1797); and
finally, to conclude the list of contents, the book contains some "Hints"
which were to have been incorporated in the second part of the "Rights of
Women" which Mary intended to write.

These fragments and works are intrinsically of small value. The "Cave of
Fancy" contains an interesting definition of sensibility, in which Mary,
perhaps unconsciously, gives an excellent analysis of her own sensitive
nature. This quality, the old sage says, is the

     "result of acute senses, finely fashioned nerves, which vibrate at
     the slightest touch, and convey such clear intelligence to the
     brain, that it does not require to be arranged by the judgment.
     Such persons instantly enter into the character of others, and
     instinctively discern what will give pain to every human being;
     their own feelings are so varied that they seem to contain in
     themselves not only all the passions of the species, but their
     various modifications. Exquisite pain and pleasure is their
     portion; nature wears for them a different aspect than is displayed
     to common mortals. One moment it is a paradise: all is beautiful; a
     cloud arises, an emotion receives a sudden damp, darkness invades
     the sky, and the world is an unweeded garden."

Of the "Hints," one on a subject which has of late years been very
eloquently discussed is valuable as demonstrating her opinion of the
relation of religion to morals. It is as follows:--

     "Few can walk alone. The staff of Christianity is the necessary
     support of human weakness. An acquaintance with the nature of man
     and virtue, with just sentiments on the attributes, would be
     sufficient, without a voice from heaven, to lead some to virtue,
     but not the mob."




Mary's torture of suspense was now over. The reaction from it would
probably have been serious, if she had not had the distraction of work.
Activity was, as it had often been before, the tonic which restored her
to comparative health. She had no money, and Fanny, despite Imlay's
promises, was entirely dependent upon her. Her exertions to maintain
herself and her child obliged her to stifle at least the expression of
misery. One of her last outbursts of grief found utterance in a letter to
Mr. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who in France had been the witness of her
happiness. Shortly after her final farewell to Imlay, she wrote to this

       LONDON, Jan. 26, 1796.

     MY DEAR SIR,--Though I have not heard from you, I should have
     written to you, convinced of your friendship, could I have told you
     anything of myself that could have afforded you pleasure. I am
     unhappy. I have been treated with unkindness, and even cruelty, by
     the person from whom I had every reason to expect affection. I
     write to you with an agitated hand. I cannot be more explicit. I
     value your good opinion, and you know how to feel for me. I looked
     for something like happiness in the discharge of my relative
     duties, and the heart on which I leaned has pierced mine to the
     quick. I have not been used well, and live but for my child; for I
     am weary of myself. I still think of settling in France, because I
     wish to leave my little girl there. I have been very ill, have
     taken some desperate steps; but I am now writing for independence.
     I wish I had no other evil to complain of than the necessity of
     providing for myself and my child. Do not mistake me. Mr. Imlay
     would be glad to supply all my pecuniary wants; but unless he
     returns to himself, I would perish first. Pardon the incoherence of
     my style. I have put off writing to you from time to time, because
     I could not write calmly. Pray write to me. I will not fail, I was
     going to say, when I have anything good to tell you. But for me
     there is nothing good in store. My heart is broken! I am yours,

       MARY IMLAY.

Outwardly she became much calmer. She resumed her old tasks; Mr. Johnson
now, as ever, practically befriending her by providing her with work. She
had nothing so much at heart as her child's interests, and these seemed
to demand her abjuration of solitude and her return to social life. Her
existence externally was, save for the presence of Fanny, exactly the
same as it had been before her departure for France. Another minor change
was that she was now known as Mrs. Imlay. Imlay had asked her to retain
his name; and to prevent the awkwardness and misunderstandings that
otherwise would have arisen, she consented to do so.

During this period she had held but little communication with her family.
The coolness between her sisters and herself had, from no fault of hers,
developed into positive anger. Their ill-will, which had begun some years
previous, had been stimulated by her comparative silence during her
residence abroad. She had really written to them often, but it was
impossible at that time for letters not to miscarry. Those which she
sent by private opportunities reached them, and they contain proofs of
her unremitting and affectionate solicitude for them. Always accustomed
to help them out of difficulties, she worried over what she heard of
their circumstances, and while her hands were, so to speak, tied, she
made plans to contribute to their future comforts. These letters were not
given in the order of their date, that they might not interrupt the
narrative of the Imlay episode. They may more appropriately be quoted
here. The following was written to Everina about a month before Fanny's

       HAVRE, March 10, 1794.

     MY DEAR GIRL,--It is extremely uncomfortable to write to you thus
     without expecting, or even daring to ask for an answer, lest I
     should involve others in my difficulties, and make them suffer for
     protecting me. The French are at present so full of suspicion that
     had a letter of James's, imprudently sent to me, been opened, I
     would not have answered for the consequence. I have just sent off a
     great part of my manuscripts, which Miss Williams would fain have
     had me burn, following her example; and to tell you the truth, my
     life would not have been worth much had they been found. It is
     impossible for you to have any idea of the impression the sad
     scenes I have witnessed have left on my mind. The climate of France
     is uncommonly fine, the country pleasant, and there is a degree of
     ease and even simplicity in the manners of the common people which
     attaches me to them. Still death and misery, in every shape of
     terror, haunt this devoted country. I certainly am glad that I came
     to France, because I never could have had a just opinion of the
     most extraordinary event that has ever been recorded, and I have
     met with some uncommon instances of friendship, which my heart will
     ever gratefully store up, and call to mind when the remembrance is
     keen of the anguish it has endured for its fellow-creatures at
     large, for the unfortunate beings cut off around me, and the still
     more unfortunate survivors. If any of the many letters I have
     written have come to your hands or Eliza's, you know that I am
     safe, through the protection of an American, a most worthy man, who
     joins to uncommon tenderness of heart and quickness of feeling, a
     soundness of understanding and reasonableness of temper rarely to
     be met with. Having been brought up in the interior parts of
     America, he is a most natural, unaffected creature. I am with him
     now at Havre, and shall remain there till circumstances point out
     what is necessary for me to do. Before I left Paris, I attempted to
     find the Laurents, whom I had several times previously sought for,
     but to no purpose. And I am apt to think that it was very prudent
     in them to leave a shop that had been the resort of the nobility.

     Where is poor Eliza? From a letter I received many, many months
     after it was written, I suppose she is in Ireland. Will you write
     to tell her that I most affectionately remember her, and still have
     in my mind some places for her future comfort. Are you well? But
     why do I ask? you cannot reply to me. This thought throws a damp on
     my spirits whilst I write, and makes my letter rather an act of
     duty than a present satisfaction. God bless you! I will write by
     every opportunity, and am yours sincerely and affectionately,


Another written from Paris, before Imlay had shown himself in his true
colors, is full of kindness, containing a suggestion that Everina should
join her in the spring:

       PARIS, September, 1794.

     As you must, my dear girl, have received several letters from me,
     especially one I sent to London by Mr. Imlay, I avail myself of
     this opportunity just to tell you that I am well and my child, and
     to request you to write by this occasion. I do, indeed, long to
     hear from you and Eliza. I have at last got some tidings of
     Charles, and as they must have reached you, I need not tell you
     what sincere satisfaction they afforded me. I have also heard from
     James; he too, talks of success, but in a querulous strain. What
     are you doing? Where is Eliza? You have perhaps answered these
     questions in answer to the letters I gave in charge to Mr. I.; but
     fearing that some fatality might have prevented their reaching you,
     let me repeat that I have written to you and to Eliza at least half
     a score of times, pointing out different ways for you to write to
     me, still have received no answers. I have again and again given
     you an account of my present situation, and introduced Mr. Imlay to
     you as a brother you would love and respect. I hope the time is not
     very distant when we shall all meet. Do be very particular in your
     account of yourself, and if you have not time to procure me a
     letter from Eliza, tell me all about her. Tell me, too, what is
     become of George, etc., etc. I only write to ask questions, and to
     assure you that I am most affectionately yours,

       MARY IMLAY.

     P. S. _September 20._--Should peace take place this winter, what
     say you to a voyage in the spring, if not to see your old
     acquaintance, to see Paris, which I think you did not do justice
     to. I want you to see my little girl, who is more like a boy. She
     is ready to fly away with spirits, and has eloquent health in her
     cheeks and eyes. She does not promise to be a beauty, but appears
     wonderfully intelligent, and though I am sure she has her father's
     quick temper and feelings, her good-humor runs away with all the
     credit of my good nursing....

That she had discussed the question of her sisters' prospects with Imlay
seems probable from the fact that while he was in London alone, in
November, 1794, he wrote very affectionately to Eliza, saying,--

     "... We shall both of us continue to cherish feelings of
     tenderness for you, and a recollection of your unpleasant
     situation, and we shall also endeavor to alleviate its distress by
     all the means in our power. The present state of our fortune is
     rather [word omitted]. However, you must know your sister too well,
     and I am sure you judge of that knowledge too favorably, to suppose
     that whenever she has it in her power she will not apply some
     specific aid to promote your happiness. I shall always be most
     happy to receive your letters; but as I shall most likely leave
     England the beginning of next week, I will thank you to let me hear
     from you as soon as convenient, and tell me ingenuously in what way
     I can serve you in any manner or respect...."

But all Mary's efforts to be kind could not soften their resentment. On
the contrary, it was still further increased by the step she took in
their regard on her return to England in the same year. When in France
she had gladly suggested Everina's joining her there; but in London,
after her discovery of Imlay's change of feeling, she naturally shrank
from receiving her or Eliza into her house. Her sorrow was too sacred to
be exposed to their gaze. She was brave enough to tell them not to come
to her, a course of action that few in her place would have had the
courage to pursue. In giving them her reasons for this new determination,
she of course told them but half the truth. To Everina she wrote:--

       April 27, 1795.

     When you hear, my dear Everina, that I have been in London near a
     fortnight without writing to you or Eliza, you will perhaps accuse
     me of insensibility; for I shall not lay any stress on my not being
     well in consequence of a violent cold I caught during the time I
     was nursing, but tell you that I put off writing because I was at a
     loss what I could do to render Eliza's situation more comfortable.
     I instantly gave Jones ten pounds to send, for a very obvious
     reason, in his own name to my father, and could send her a trifle
     of this kind immediately, were a temporary assistance necessary. I
     believe I told you that Mr. Imlay had not a fortune when I first
     knew him; since that he has entered into very extensive plans which
     promise a degree of success, though not equal to the first
     prospect. When a sufficient sum is actually realized, I know he
     will give me for you and Eliza five or six hundred pounds, or more
     if he can. In what way could this be of the most use to you? I am
     above concealing my sentiments, though I have boggled at uttering
     them. It would give me sincere pleasure to be situated near you
     both. I cannot yet say where I shall determine to spend the rest of
     my life; but I do not wish to have a third person in the house with
     me; my domestic happiness would perhaps be interrupted, without my
     being of much use to Eliza. This is not a hastily formed opinion,
     nor is it in consequence of my present attachment, yet I am obliged
     now to express it because it appears to me that you have formed
     some such expectation for Eliza. You may wound me by remarking on
     my determination, still I know on what principle I act, and
     therefore you can only judge for yourself. I have not heard from
     Charles for a great while. By writing to me immediately you would
     relieve me from considerable anxiety. Mrs. Imlay, No. 26 Charlotte
     Street, Rathbone Place.

       Yours sincerely,

Two days later she wrote to this effect to Mrs. Bishop. Both letters are
almost word for word the same, so that it would be useless to give the
second. It was too much for Eliza's inflammable temper. All her worst
feelings were stirred by what she considered an insult. The kindness of
years was in a moment effaced from her memory. Her indignation was
probably fanned into fiercer fury by her disappointment. From a few words
she wrote to Everina it seems as if both had been relying upon Mary for
the realization of certain "goodly prospects." She returned Mary's letter
without a word, but to Everina she wrote;--

     "I have enclosed this famous letter to the author of the 'Rights of
     Women,' without any reflection. She shall never hear from _Poor
     Bess_ again. Remember, I am fixed as my misery, and nothing can
     change my present plan. This letter has so strangely agitated me
     that I know not what I say, but this I feel and know, that if you
     value my existence you will comply with my requisition [that is, to
     find her a situation in Ireland where she, Everina, then was], for
     I am positive I will never torture our amiable friend in Charlotte
     Street. Is not this a good spring, my dear girl? At least poor Bess
     can say it is a fruitful one. Alas, poor Bess!"

It seemed to be Mary's fate to prove the truth of the saying, that if to
him that hath, it shall be given, so also from him that hath not, shall
it be taken away. Just as she realized that Imlay's love was lost
forever, Eliza's cruel, silent answer to her letter came to tell her it
would be useless to turn to her sisters for sympathy. They failed to do
justice to her heart, but she bore them no resentment. In one of her last
letters to Imlay, she reminds him that when she went to Sweden she had
asked him to attend to the wants of her father and sisters, a request
which he had ignored. The anger she excited in them, however, was never
entirely appeased, and from that time until her death, she heard but
little of them, and saw still less.

But, though deserted by those nearest to her, her friends rallied round
her. She was joyfully re-welcomed to the literary society which she had
before frequented. She was not treated as an outcast, because people
resolutely refused to believe the truth about her connection with Imlay.
She was far from encouraging them in this. Godwin says in her desire to
be honest she went so far as to explain the true state of the case to a
man whom she knew to be the most inveterate tale-bearer in London, and
who would be sure to repeat what she told him. But it was of no avail.
Her personal attractions and cleverness predisposed friends in her favor.
In order to retain her society and also to silence any scruples that
might arise, they held her to be an injured wife, as indeed she really
was, and not a deserted mistress. A few turned from her coldly; but those
who eagerly reopened their doors to her were in the majority. One old
friend who failed at this time, when his friendship would have been most
valued, was Fuseli. Knowles has published a note in which Mary reproaches
the artist for his want of sympathy. It reads as follows:--

     When I returned from France I visited you, sir, but finding myself
     after my late journey in a very different situation, I vainly
     imagined you would have called upon me. I simply tell you what I
     thought, yet I write not at present to comment on your conduct or
     to expostulate. I have long ceased to expect kindness or affection
     from any human creature, and would fain tear from my heart its
     treacherous sympathies. I am alone. The injustice, without alluding
     to hopes blasted in the bud, which I have endured, wounding my
     bosom, have set my thoughts adrift into an ocean of painful
     conjecture. I ask impatiently what and where is truth? I have been
     treated brutally, but I daily labor to remember that I still have
     the duty of a mother to fulfil.

     I have written more than I intended,--for I only meant to request
     you to return my letters: I wish to have them, and it must be the
     same to you. Adieu!




William Godwin was one of those with whom Mary renewed her acquaintance.
The impression they now made on each other was very different from that
which they had received in the days when she was still known as Mrs.
Wollstonecraft. Since he was no less famous than she, and since it was
his good fortune to make the last year of her life happy, and by his love
to compensate her for her first wretched experience, a brief sketch of
his life, his character, and his work is here necessary. It is only by
knowing what manner of man he was, and what standard of conduct he
deduced from his philosophy, that his relations to her can be fairly

William Godwin, the seventh child of thirteen, was the son of a
Dissenting minister, and was born March 3, 1756, at Wisbeach,
Cambridgeshire. He came on both sides of respectable middle-class
families. His father's father and brother had both been clergymen, the
one a Methodist preacher, the other a Dissenter. His father was a man of
but little learning, whose strongest feeling was disapprobation of the
Church of England, and whose "creed was so puritanical that he considered
the fondling of a cat a profanation of the Lord's day." Mrs. Godwin in
her earlier years was gay, too much so for the wife of a minister, some
people thought, but after her husband's death she joined a Methodistical
sect, and her piety in the end grew into fanaticism. A Miss Godwin, a
cousin, who lived with the family, had perhaps the greatest influence
over William Godwin when he was a mere child. She was not without
literary culture, and through her he learnt something of books. But her
religious principles were severely Calvinistic, and these she impressed
upon him at the same time.

His first school-mistress was an old woman, who was concerned chiefly
with his soul, and who gave him, before he had completed his eighth year,
an intimate knowledge of the Bible. The inevitable consequence of this
training was that religion became his first thought. Thanks to his
cousin, however, and to his natural cleverness and ambition, he was saved
from bigotry by his interest in wider subjects, though they were for many
years secondary considerations. From an early age he had, as he says of
himself, developed an insatiable curiosity and love of distinction. One
of his later tutors was Mr. Samuel Newton, an Independent minister and a
follower of Sandeman, "a celebrated north country apostle, who, after
Calvin had damned ninety-nine in a hundred of mankind, has contrived a
scheme for damning ninety-nine in a hundred of the followers of Calvin."
Godwin remained some years with him, and was so far influenced by his
doctrines, that when, later, he sought admission into Homerton Academy, a
Dissenting institution, he was refused, because he seemed to the
authorities to show signs of Sandemanianism. But he had no difficulty in
entering Hoxton College; and here, in his twenty-third year, he finished
his religious and secular education. During these years his leading
inspiration had been a thirst after knowledge and truth.

This was in 1778. Upon leaving college he began his career as minister,
but he was never very successful, and before long his religious views
were much modified. His search for truth led him in a direction in which
he had least expected to go. In 1781, when he was fulfilling the duties
of his profession at Stowmarket, he began to read the French
philosophers, and by them his faith in Christianity was seriously shaken.
1783 was the last year in which he appeared in the pulpit. He gave up the
office and went to London, where he supported himself by writing. In the
course of a short time he dropped the title of Reverend and emancipated
himself entirely from his old religious associations.

His first literary work was the "Life of Lord Chatham," and this was
followed by a defence of the coalition of 1783. He then obtained regular
employment on the "English Review," published by Murray in Fleet Street,
wrote several novels, and became a contributor to the "Political Herald."
He was entirely dependent upon his writings, which fact accounts for the
variety displayed in them. His chief interest was, however, in politics.
He was a Liberal of the most pronounced type, and his articles soon
attracted the attention of the Whigs. His services to that party were
considered so valuable that when the above-mentioned paper perished, Fox,
through Sheridan, proposed to Godwin that he should edit it, the whole
expense to be paid from a fund set aside for just such purposes. But
Godwin declined. By accepting he would have sacrificed his independence
and have become their mouthpiece, and he was not willing to sell himself.
He seems at one time to have been ambitious to be a Member of Parliament,
and records with evident satisfaction Sheridan's remark to him: "You
ought to be in Parliament." But his integrity again proved a
stumbling-block. He could not reconcile himself to the subterfuges which
Whigs as well as Tories silently countenanced. Honesty was his besetting
quality quite as much as it was Mary's. He was unfit to take an active
part in politics; his sphere of work was speculative.

He was the foremost among the devoted adherents in England of Rousseau,
Helvetius, and the other Frenchmen of their school. He was one of the
"French Revolutionists," so called because of their sympathy with the
French apostles of liberty and equality; and at their meetings he met
such men as Price, Holcroft, Earl Stanhope, Horne Tooke, Geddes, all of
whom considered themselves fortunate in having his co-operation. Thomas
Paine was one of his intimate acquaintances; and the "Rights of Man" was
submitted to him, to receive his somewhat qualified praise, before it was
published. He was one of the leading spirits in developing the radicalism
of his time, and thus in preparing the way for that of the present day;
and the influence of his writings over men of his and the next generation
was enormous. Indeed, it can hardly now be measured, since much which he
wrote, being unsigned and published in papers and periodicals, has been

He was always on the alert in political matters, ready to seize every
opportunity to do good and to promote the cause of freedom. He was, in a
word, one of that large army of pilgrims whose ambition is to "make
whole flawed hearts, and bowed necks straight." In 1791 he wrote an
anonymous letter to Fox, in which he advanced the sentiments to which he
later gave expression in his "Political Justice," his principal work. In
his autobiographical notes he explains:--

     "Mr. Fox, in the debate on the bill for giving a new constitution
     to Canada, had said that he would not be the man to propose the
     abolition of a House of Lords in a country where such a power was
     already established; but as little would he be the man to recommend
     the introduction of such a power where it was not. This was by no
     means the only public indication he had shown how deeply he had
     drank of the spirit of the French Revolution. The object of the
     above-mentioned letters [that is, his own to Fox, and one written
     by Holcroft to Sheridan] was to excite these two illustrious men to
     persevere gravely and inflexibly in the career on which they had
     entered. I was strongly impressed with the sentiment that in the
     then existing circumstances of England and of Europe, great and
     happy improvements might be achieved under such auspices without
     anarchy and confusion. I believed that important changes must
     arise, and I was inexpressibly anxious that such changes should be
     effected under the conduct of the best and most competent leaders."

This brief note explains at once the two leading doctrines of his
philosophy: the necessity of change, and the equal importance of
moderation in effecting it. His political creed was, paradoxical as this
may seem, the outcome of his religious education. He had long since given
up the actual faith in which he was born and trained; after going through
successive stages of Sandemanianism, Deism, and Socinianism, he had, in
1787, become a "complete unbeliever;" but he never entirely outlived its
influence. This was of a twofold nature. It taught him to question the
sanctity of established institutions, and it crushed in him, even if it
did not wholly eradicate, strong passion and emotional demonstration. No
man in England was as thorough a radical as he. Paine's or Holcroft's
conceptions of human freedom were like forms of slavery compared to his
broad, exhaustive theories. But, on the other hand, there never was a
more earnest advocate of moderation. Burke and the French royalists could
not have been more eloquent opponents of violent measures of reform than
he was. Towards the end of the last century it was easier for a
Dissenter, who had already overthrown one barrier, than for the orthodox,
to rebel against existing social and political laws and customs. From the
belief that freedom from the authority of the Church of England was
necessary to true piety, it was but a step to the larger faith that
freedom from the restraints of government and society was indispensable
to virtue. Godwin, after he ceased to be a religious, became a political
and social Dissenter. In his zeal for the liberty of humanity, he
contended for nothing less than the destruction of all human laws. French
Republicans demanded the simplest possible form of government. But
Godwin, outstripping them, declared there should be none whatsoever. "It
may seem strange," Mrs. Shelley writes, "that any one should, in the
sincerity of his heart, believe that no vice could exist with perfect
freedom, but my father did; it was the very basis of his system, the very
keystone of the arch of justice, by which he desired to knit together the
whole human family."

His ultra-radicalism led him to some wise and reasonable, and other
strange and startling conclusions, and these he set before the public in
his "Political Justice," the first book he published under his own name.
It appeared in 1793, and immediately created a great sensation. It must
be ranked as one of the principal factors in the development of English
thought. A short explanation of the doctrines embodied in it will throw
important light on his subsequent relations to Mary, as well as on his
own character. The foundation of the arguments he advances in this book
is his belief in the efficacy of reason in the individual as a guide to
conduct. He thought that, if each human being were free to act as he
chose, he would be sure to act for the best; for, according to him,
instincts do not exist. He makes no allowance for the influence of the
past in forming the present, ignoring the laws of heredity. A man's
character is formed by the nature of his surroundings. Virtue and vice
are the result not of innate tendencies, but of external circumstances.
When these are perfected, evil will necessarily disappear from the world.
He had so successfully subordinated his own emotions, that in his
philosophical system he calmly ignores passion as a mainspring of human
activity. This is exemplified by the rule he lays down for the regulation
of a man's conduct to his fellow-beings. He must always measure their
respective worth, and not the strength of his affection for them, even if
the individuals concerned be his near relations. Supposing, for example,
he had to choose between saving the life of a Fénelon and that of a
chambermaid, he must select the former because of his superior talents,
even though the latter should be his mother or his wife. Affections are
to be forgotten in the calculations of reason. Godwin's faith in the
supremacy of the intellect was not lessened because he was forced to
admit that men often do not act reasonably. This is, he explains, because
they are without knowledge of the absolute truth. Show them what is true
or right, and all, even the most abandoned criminal, will give up what is
false or wrong. Logic is the means by which the regeneration of mankind
is to be effected. Reason is the dynamite by which the monopoly of rank
is to be shattered. "Could Godwin," Leslie Stephen very cleverly says,
"have caught Pitt, or George III., or Mrs. Brownrigg, and subjected them
to a Socratic cross-examination, he could have restored them to the paths
of virtue, as he would have corrected an error in a little boy's sums."

Men, Godwin taught, can never know the truth so long as human laws exist;
because when subject to any control, good, bad, or indifferent, they are
not free to reason, and hence their actions are deprived of their only
legitimate inspiration. Arguing from these premises, his belief in the
necessity of the abolition of all forms of government, political and
social, and his discouragement of the acquirement of habits, were
perfectly logical. Had he confined himself to general terms in expressing
his convictions, his conclusions would not have been so startling.
Englishmen were becoming accustomed to theories of reform. But always
just and uncompromising, he unhesitatingly defined particular instances
by which he illustrated the truth of his teaching, thus making the ends
he hoped to achieve clearer to his readers. He boldly advanced the
substitution of an appeal to reason for punishment in the treatment of
criminals, and this at a time when such a doctrine was considered
treason. He declared that any article of property justly belongs to those
who most want it, "or to whom the possession of it will be most
beneficial." But his objection to the marriage law seemed the most
glaringly immoral part of his philosophy. He assailed theoretically an
institution for which Mary Wollstonecraft had practically shown her
disapprobation. His reasoning in this regard is curious, and reveals the
little importance he attached to passion. He disapproved of the marriage
tie because he thought that two people who are bound together by it are
not at liberty to follow the dictates of their own minds, and hence are
not acting in accordance with pure reason. Free love or a system of
voluntary divorce would be less immoral, because in either of these cases
men and women would be self-ruled, and therefore could be relied upon to
do what is right. Besides, according to his ideal of justice in the
matter of property, a man or a woman belongs to whomsoever most needs him
or her, irrespective of any relations already formed. It follows
naturally that the children born in a community where these ideas are
adopted are to be educated by the state, and must not be subjected to
rules or discipline, but taught from the beginning to regulate their
conduct by the light of reason. Godwin, like so many other philosophers
of his times, based his arguments upon abstract principles, and failed to
seek concrete proofs. He built up a structure beautiful in theory, but
impossible in real life until man develops into a very much higher order
of being. An enthusiast, despite his calmness, he looked forward to the
time when death would be an evil of the past, and when no new men would
be born into the world. He believed that the day would come when "there
will be no war, no crimes, no administration of justice, as it is called,
and no government." There will be "neither disease, anguish, melancholy,
nor resentment. Every man will seek with ineffable ardor the good of
all." Human optimism could go no farther.

It is not surprising that his book made a stir in the political world.
None of the Revolutionists had delivered themselves of such
ultra-revolutionary sentiments. Men had been accused of high treason for
much more moderate views. Perhaps it was their very extravagance that
saved him, though he accounted for it in another way. "I have
frequently," Mrs. Shelley explains, "heard my father say that 'Political
Justice' escaped prosecution from the reason that it appeared in a form
too expensive for general acquisition. Pitt observed, when the question
was debated in the Privy Council, that 'a three-guinea book could never
do much harm among those who had not three shillings to spare.'" Godwin
purposely published his work in this expensive form because he knew that
by so doing he would keep it from the multitude, whose passions he would
have been the last to arouse or to stimulate. He only wished it to be
studied by men too enlightened to encourage abrupt innovation. _Festina
lente_ was his motto. The success of the book, however, went beyond his
expectations and perhaps his intentions. Three editions were issued in as
many years. Among the class of readers to whom he immediately appealed,
the verdict passed upon it varied. Dr. Priestley thought it very
original, and that it would probably prove useful, though its fundamental
principles were too pure to be practical. Horne Tooke pronounced it a bad
book, calculated to do harm. The Rev. Samuel Newton's vigorous
disapproval of it caused a final breach between Godwin and his old tutor.
As a rule, the Liberal party accepted it as the work of inspiration, and
the conservative condemned it as the outcome of atheism and political
rebellion. When Godwin, after its publication, made a trip into
Warwickshire to stay with Dr. Parr, he found that his fame had preceded
him. He was known to the reading public in the counties as well as in the
capital, and he was everywhere received with curiosity and kindness. To
no one whom he met was he a stranger.

His novel, "Caleb Williams," established his literary reputation. Its
success almost realized Mrs. Inchbald's prediction that "fine ladies,
milliners, mantua-makers, and boarding-school girls will love to tremble
over it, and that men of taste and judgment will admire the superior
talents, the _incessant_ energy of mind you have evinced." He was at this
time one of the most conspicuous and most talked-about men in London. He
counted among his friends and acquaintances all the distinguished men and
women of the day; among whom he was in great demand, notwithstanding the
fact that he talked neither much nor well, and that not even the most
brilliant conversation could prevent his taking short naps when in
company. But he was extremely fond of social pleasures. His philosophy
had made him neither an ascetic nor an anchorite. He worked for only
three or four hours each day; and the rest of the time was given up to
reading, to visiting, and to the theatre, he being particularly attracted
to the latter form of amusement. His reading was as omnivorous as that of
Lord Macaulay. Metaphysics, poetry, novels, were all grist for his mill.
This general interest saved him from becoming that greatest of all bores,
a man with but one idea.

He was as cold in his conduct as in his philosophy. He maintained in the
various relations of life an imperturbable calmness. But it was not that
of a Goethe, who knows how to harmonize passion and intellect; it was
that of a man in whom the former is an unknown quantity. He was always
methodical in his work. Great as his interest in his subject might be,
his ardor was held within bounds. There were no long vigils spent
wrestling with thought, or days and weeks passed alone and locked in his
study that nothing might interfere with the flow of ideas, unless, as
happened occasionally, he was working against time. He wrote from nine
till one, and then, when he found his brain confused by this amount of
labor, he readily reduced the number of his working hours. Literary
composition was undertaken by him with the same placidity with which
another man might devote himself to book-keeping. His moral code was
characterized by the same cool calculation. He had early decided that
usefulness to his fellow-creatures was the only thing which made life
worth living. It is doubtful whether any other human being would have set
about fulfilling this object as he did. He writes of himself:--

     "No man could be more desirous than I was of adopting a practice
     conformable to my principles, as far as I could do so without
     affording reasonable ground of offence to any other person. I was
     anxious not to spend a penny on myself which I did not imagine
     calculated to render me a more capable servant of the public; and
     as I was averse to the expenditure of money, so I was not inclined
     to earn it but in small portions. I considered the disbursement of
     money for the benefit of others as a very difficult problem, which
     he who has the possession of it is bound to solve in the best
     manner he can, but which affords small encouragement to any one to
     acquire it who has it not. The plan, therefore, I resolved on was
     leisure,--a leisure to be employed in deliberate composition, and
     in the pursuit of such attainments as afforded me the most promise
     to render me useful. For years I scarcely did anything at home or
     abroad without the inquiry being uppermost in my mind whether I
     could be better employed for general benefit."

He was equally uncompromising in his friendships. His feelings towards
his friends were always ruled by his sense of justice. He was the first
to come forward with substantial help in their hour of need, but he was
also the first to tell them the truth, even though it might be
unpleasant, when he thought it his duty to do so. His unselfishness is
shown in his conduct during the famous state trials, in which Holcroft,
his most intimate friend, Horne Tooke, and several other highly prized
acquaintances, were accused of high treason. His boldly avowed
revolutionary principles made him a marked man, but he did all that was
in his power to defend them. He expressed in the columns of the "Morning
Chronicle" his unqualified opinion of the atrocity of the proceedings
against them; and throughout the trials he stood by the side of the
prisoners, though by so doing he ran the risk of being arrested with
them. But if his friends asked his assistance when it did not seem to him
that they deserved it, he was as fearless in withholding it. A Jew
money-lender, John King by name, at whose house he dined frequently, was
arrested on some charge connected with his business. He appealed to
Godwin to appear in court and give evidence in his favor; whereupon the
latter wrote to him, not only declining, but forcibly explaining that he
declined because he could not conscientiously attest to his, the Jew's,
moral character. There was no ill-will on his part, and he continued to
dine amicably with King. Engrossed as he was with his own work, he could
still find time to read a manuscript for Mrs. Inchbald, or a play for
Holcroft, but when he did so, he was very plain-spoken in pointing out
their faults. He incurred the former's displeasure by correcting some
grammatical errors in a story she had submitted to him, and he deeply
wounded the latter by his unmerciful abuse of the "Lawyer." "You come
with a sledge-hammer of criticism," Holcroft said to him on this
occasion, "describe it [the play] as absolutely contemptible, tell me it
must be damned, or, if it should escape, that it cannot survive five
nights." Yet his affection for Holcroft was unwavering. The conflicting
results to which his honesty sometimes led are strikingly set forth in
his relations to Thomas Cooper, a distant cousin, who at one time lived
with him as pupil. He studied attentively the boy's character, and did
his utmost to treat him gently and kindly, but, on the other hand, he
expressed in his presence his opinion of him in language harsh enough to
justify his pupil's indignation. It is more than probable that this same
frankness was one of the causes of his many quarrels--_démêlés_, he calls
them in his diary--with his most devoted friends. His sincerity, however,
invariably triumphed, and these were always mere passing storms.

He was passionless even in relations which usually arouse warmth in the
most phlegmatic natures. He was a good son and brother, yet so
undemonstrative that his manner passed at times for indifference. Though
in beliefs and sentiments he had drifted far apart from his mother, he
never let this fact interfere with his filial respect and duty; and her
long and many letters to him are proofs of his unfailing kindness for
her. Men more affectionate than he might have rebelled against her
maternal sermons. He never did. But the good lady had occasion to object
to his coldness. In one of her letters she asks him why he cannot call
her "Honored Mother" as well as "Madam," by which title he addressed her,
adding naïvely that "it would be full as agreeable." He was always
willing to look out for the welfare of his brothers, two of whom were
somewhat disreputable characters, and of his sister Hannah, who lived in
London. With the latter he was on particularly friendly terms, and saw
much of her, yet Mrs. Sothren--the cousin who had been such a help to him
in his early years--reproves him for writing of her as "Miss Godwin"
instead of "sister," and fears lest this may be a sign that his brotherly
affection, once great, had abated.

He seems at one time to have thought that he could provide himself with
a wife in the same manner in which he managed his other affairs. He
imagined that in contracting such a relationship, love was no more
indispensable than a heroine was to the interest of a novel. He proposed
that his sister Hannah should choose a wife for him; and she, in all
seriousness, set about complying with his request. In a spirit as
business-like as his, she decided upon a friend, calculated she was sure
to meet his requirements, and then sent him a list of her merits, much as
one might write a recommendation of a governess or a cook. Her letter on
the subject is so unique, and it is so impossible that it should have
been written to any one but Godwin, that it is well worth while quoting
part of it. She sent him a note of introduction to the lady in question,
who, she writes,--

     "... is in every sense formed to make one of your disposition
     really happy. She has a pleasing voice, with which she accompanies
     her musical instrument with judgment. She has an easy politeness in
     her manners, neither free nor reserved. She is a good housekeeper
     and a good economist, and yet of a generous disposition. As to her
     internal accomplishments, I have reason to speak still more highly
     of them; good sense without vanity, a penetrating judgment without
     a disposition to satire, good nature and humility, with about as
     much religion as my William likes, struck me with a wish that she
     was my William's wife. I have no certain knowledge of her fortune,
     but that I leave for you to learn. I only know her father has been
     many years engaged in an employment which brings in £500 or £600
     per annum, and Miss Gay is his only child."

Not even this report could kindle the philosophical William into warmth.
He waited many months before he called upon this paragon, and when he
finally saw her, he failed to be enraptured according to Hannah's
expectations. "Poor Miss Gay," as the Godwins subsequently called her,
never received a second visit.

When it came to the point he found that something depended upon himself,
and that he could not be led by his sister's choice, satisfactory as it
might be. That he should for a moment have supposed such a step possible
is the more surprising, because he afterwards showed himself to be not
only fond of the society of women, but unusually nice and discriminating
in selecting it. His women friends were all famous either for beauty or
cleverness. Before his marriage he was on terms of intimacy with Mrs.
Inchbald, with Amelia Alderson, soon to become Mrs. Opie, and with the
beautiful Mrs. Reveley, whose interest in politics and desire for
knowledge were to him greater charms than her personal attractions.
Notwithstanding his unimpassioned nature, William Godwin was never a
philosophical Aloysius of Gonzaga, to voluntarily blind himself to
feminine beauty.

Indeed, there must have been beneath all his coldness a substratum of
warm and strong feeling. He possessed to a rare degree the power of
making friends and of giving sympathy to his fellow-beings. The man who
can command the affection of others, and enter into their emotions, must
know how to feel himself. It was for more than his intellect that he was
loved by men like Holcroft and Josiah Wedgwood, like Coleridge and Lamb,
and that he was sought after by beautiful and clever women. His talents
alone would not have won the hearts of young men, and yet he invariably
made friends with those who came under his influence. Willis Webb and
Thomas Cooper, who, in his earlier London life, lived with him as pupils,
not only respected but loved him, and gave him their confidence. In a
later generation, youthful enthusiasts, of whom Bulwer and Shelley are
the most notable, looked upon Godwin as the chief apostle in the cause of
humanity, and, beginning by admiring him as a philosopher, finished by
loving him as a man. Those who know him only through his works or by
reading his biography, cannot altogether understand how it was that he
thus attracted and held the affections of so many men and women. But the
truth is that, while Godwin was naturally a man of an uncommonly cold
temperament, much of his emotional insensibility was artificially
produced by his puritanical training. He was perfectly honest when in his
philosophy of life he banished the passions from his calculations. He was
so thoroughly schooled in stifling emotion and its expression, that he
thought himself incapable of passional excitement, and, reasoning from
his own experience, failed to appreciate its importance in shaping the
course of human affairs. But it may be that people brought into personal
contact with him felt that beneath his passive exterior there was at
least the possibility of passion. Mary Wollstonecraft was the first to
develop this possibility into certainty, and to arouse Godwin to a
consciousness of its existence. She revolutionized not only his life, but
his social doctrines. Through her he discovered the flaw in his
arguments, and then honestly confessed his mistake to the world. A few
years after her death he wrote in the Introduction to "St. Leon:"--

     "... I think it necessary to say on the present occasion ... that
     for more than four years I have been anxious for opportunity and
     leisure to modify some of the earlier chapters of that work
     ["Political Justice"] in conformity to the sentiments inculcated in
     this. Not that I see cause to make any change respecting the
     principle of justice, or anything else fundamental to the system
     there delivered; but that I apprehend domestic and private
     affections inseparable from the nature of man, and from what may be
     styled the culture of the heart, and am fully persuaded that they
     are not incompatible with a profound and active sense of justice in
     the mind of him that cherishes them."

When Godwin met Mary, after her desertion by Imlay, he was forty years of
age, in the full prime and vigor of his intellect, and in the height of
his fame. She was thirty-seven, only three years his junior. She was the
cleverest woman in England. Her talents had matured, and grief had made
her strong. She was strikingly handsome. She had, by her struggles and
sufferings, acquired what she calls in her "Rights of Women" a
_physionomie_. Even Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Reveley, hard as life had gone
with them, had never approached the depth of misery which she had
fathomed. The eventful meeting took place in the month of January, 1796,
shortly after Mary had returned from her travels in the North. Miss Hayes
invited Godwin to come to her house one evening when Mary expected to be
there. He accepted her invitation without hesitation, but evinced no
great eagerness.

     "I will do myself the pleasure of waiting on you Friday," he
     wrote, "and shall be happy to meet Mrs. Wollstonecraft, of whom I
     know not that I ever said a word of harm, and who has frequently
     amused herself with depreciating me. But I trust you acknowledge in
     me the reality of a habit upon which I pique myself, that I speak
     of the qualities of others uninfluenced by personal considerations,
     and am as prompt to do justice to an enemy as to a friend."

The meeting was more propitious than their first some few years earlier
had been. Godwin had, with others, heard her sad story, and felt sorry
for her, and perhaps admired her for her bold practical application of
his principles. This was better than the positive dislike with which she
had once inspired him. But still his feeling for her was negative. He
would probably never have made an effort to see her again. What Mary
thought of him has not been recorded. But she must have been favorably
impressed, for when she came back to London from her trip to Berkshire,
she called upon him in his lodgings in Somer's Town. He, in the mean
time, had read her "Letters from Norway," and they had given him a higher
respect for her talents. The inaccuracies and the roughness of style
which had displeased him in her earlier works had disappeared. There was
no fault to be found with the book, but much to be said in its praise.
Once she had pleased him intellectually, he began to discover her other
attractions, and to enjoy being with her. Her conversation, instead of
wearying him, as it once had, interested him. He no longer thought her
forward and conceited, but succumbed to her personal charms. How great
these were can be learned from the following description of her
character written by Mrs. Shelley, who obtained her knowledge from her
mother's intimate acquaintances. She says:--

     "Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those beings who appear once
     perhaps in a generation to gild humanity with a ray which no
     difference of opinion nor chance of circumstance can cloud. Her
     genius was undeniable. She had been bred in the hard school of
     adversity, and having experienced the sorrows entailed on the poor
     and the oppressed, an earnest desire was kindled in her to diminish
     these sorrows. Her sound understanding, her intrepidity, her
     sensibility and eager sympathy, stamped all her writings with force
     and truth, and endowed them with a tender charm which enchants
     while it enlightens. She was one whom all loved who had ever seen
     her. Many years are passed since that beating heart has been laid
     in the cold, still grave, but no one who has ever seen her speaks
     of her without enthusiastic veneration. Did she witness an act of
     injustice, she came boldly forward to point it out and induce its
     reparation; was there discord between friends or relatives, she
     stood by the weaker party, and by her earnest appeals and
     kindliness awoke latent affection, and healed all wounds. 'Open as
     day to melting charity,' with a heart brimful of generous
     affection, yearning for sympathy, she had fallen on evil days, and
     her life had been one course of hardship, poverty, lonely struggle,
     and bitter disappointment.

     "Godwin met her at the moment when she was deeply depressed by the
     ingratitude of one utterly incapable of appreciating her
     excellence; who had stolen her heart, and availed himself of her
     excessive and thoughtless generosity and lofty independence of
     character, to plunge her in difficulties and then desert her.
     Difficulties, worldly difficulties, indeed, she set at naught,
     compared with her despair of good, her confidence betrayed, and
     when once she could conquer the misery that clung to her heart, she
     struggled cheerfully to meet the poverty that was her inheritance,
     and to do her duty by her darling child."

Godwin now began to see her frequently. She had established herself in
rooms in Gumming Street, Pentonville, where she was very near him. They
met often at the houses of Miss Hayes, Mr. Johnson, and other mutual
friends. Her interests and tastes were the same as his; and this fact he
recognized more fully as time went on. It is probably because his
thoughts were so much with her, that the work he accomplished during this
year was comparatively small. None of the other women he knew and admired
had made him act spontaneously and forget to reason out his conduct as
she did. He really had at one time thought of making Amelia Alderson his
wife, but this, for some unrecorded reason, proving an impossibility, he
calmly dismissed the suggestion from his mind and continued the friend he
had been before. Had Mrs. Reveley been single he might have allowed
himself to love her, as he did later, when he was a widower and she a
widow. But so long as her husband was alive, and he knew he had no right
to do so, he, with perfect equanimity, regulated his affection to suit
the circumstances. But he never reasoned either for or against his love
for Mary Wollstonecraft. It sprang from his heart, and it had grown into
a strong passion before he had paused to deliberate as to its

As for Mary, Godwin's friendship coming just when it did was an
inestimable service. Never in all her life had she needed sympathy as she
did then. She was virtually alone. Her friends were kind, but their
kindness could not quite take the place of the individual love she
craved. Imlay had given it to her for a while, and her short-lived
happiness with him made her present loneliness seem more unendurable. Her
separation from him really dated back to the time when she left Havre.
Her affection for him had been destroyed sooner than she thought because
she had struggled bravely to retain it for the sake of her child. The
gayety and many distractions of London life could not drown her heart's
wretchedness. It was through Godwin that she became reconciled to
England, to life, and to herself. He revived her enthusiasm and renewed
her interest in the world and mankind; but above all he gave her that
special devotion without which she but half lived. In the restlessness
that followed her loss of Imlay's love, she had resolved to make the tour
of Italy or Switzerland. Therefore when she had returned to London,
expecting it to be but a temporary resting-place, she had taken furnished
lodgings. "Now, however," as Godwin says in his Memoirs, "she felt
herself reconciled to a longer abode in England, probably without exactly
knowing why this change had taken place in her mind." She moved to other
rooms in the extremity of Somer's Town, and filled them with the
furniture she had used in Store Street in the first days of her
prosperity, and which had since been packed away. The unpacking of this
furniture was with her what the removal of widows' weeds is with other
women. Her first love had perished; but from it rose another stronger and
better, just as the ripening of autumn's fruits follows the withering of
spring's blossoms. She mastered the harvest-secret, learning the value of
that death which yields higher fruition.

In July, Godwin left London and spent the month in Norfolk. Absence from
Mary made him realize more than he had hitherto done that she had become
indispensable to his happiness. She was constantly in his thoughts. The
more he meditated upon her, the more he appreciated her. There was less
pleasure in his excursion than in the meeting with her which followed it.
They were both glad to be together again; nor did they hesitate to make
their gladness evident. At the end of three weeks they had confessed to
each other that they could no longer live apart. Henceforward their lines
must be cast in the same places. Godwin's story of their courtship is
eloquent in its simplicity. It is almost impossible to believe that it
was written by the author of "Political Justice."

     "The partiality we conceived for each other," he explains, "was in
     that mode which I have always regarded as the purest and most
     refined style of love. It grew with equal advances in the mind of
     each. It would have been impossible for the most minute observer to
     have said who was before, and who was after. One sex did not take
     the priority which long-established custom has awarded it, nor the
     other overstep that delicacy which is so severely imposed. I am not
     conscious that either party can assume to have been the agent or
     the patient, the toil-spreader or the prey, in the affair. When, in
     the course of things, the disclosure came, there was nothing, in a
     manner, for either party to disclose to the other.... It was
     friendship melting into love."




Godwin and Mary did not at once marry. The former, in his "Political
Justice," had frankly confessed to the world that he thought the existing
institution of marriage an evil. Mary had by her conduct avowed her
agreement with him. But their views in this connection having already
been fully stated need not be repeated. In omitting to seek legal
sanction to their union both were acting in perfect accord with their
standard of morality. Judged according to their motives, neither can be
accused of wrong-doing. Pure in their own eyes, they deserve to be so in
the world's esteem. Their mistake consisted in their disregard of the
fact that, to preserve social order in the community, sacrifices are
required from the individual. They forgot--as Godwin, who was opposed to
sudden change, should not have forgotten--that laws made for men in
general cannot be arbitrarily altered to suit each man in particular.

Godwin, strange to say, was ruled in this matter not only by principle,
but by sentiment. For the first time his emotions were stirred, and he
really loved. He was more awed by his passion than a more susceptible man
would have been. It seemed to him too sacred to flaunt before the
public. "Nothing can be so ridiculous upon the face of it," he says in
the story of their love, "or so contrary to the genuine march of
sentiment, as to require the overflowing of the soul to wait upon a
ceremony, and that which, wherever delicacy and imagination exist, is of
all things most sacredly private, to blow a trumpet before it, and to
record the moment when it has arrived at its climax." Mary was anxious to
conceal, at least for a time, their new relationship. She was not ashamed
of it, for never, even when her actions seem most daring, did she swerve
from her ideas of right and wrong. But though, as a rule, people had
blinded themselves to the truth, some bitter things had been said about
her life with Imlay, and some friends had found it their duty to be
unkind. All that was unpleasant she had of course heard. One is always
sure to hear the evil spoken of one. A second offence against social
decrees would assuredly call forth redoubled discussion and increased
vituperation. The misery caused by her late experience was still vivid in
her memory. She was no less sensitive than she had been then, and she
shrank from a second scandal. She dreaded the world's harshness, much as
a Tennyson might that of critics whom he knows to be immeasurably his

The great change in their relations made little difference in their way
of living. Their determination to keep it secret would have been
sufficient to prevent any domestic innovations in the establishment of
either. But, in addition to this, Godwin had certain theories upon the
subject. Because his love was the outcome of strong feeling and not of
calm discussion, his reliance upon reason, as the regulator of his
actions, did not cease. The habits of a life-time could not be so easily
broken. If he had not governed love in its growth, he at least ruled its
expression. It was necessary to decide upon a course of conduct for the
two lives now made one. At this juncture he was again the placid
philosopher. It had occurred to him, probably in the days when Hannah
Godwin was wife-hunting for him, or later, when Amelia Alderson met with
his good-will, that if husband and wife live on too intimate and familiar
terms, the chances are they will tire of each other very soon. When the
charm of novelty and uncertainty is removed, there is danger of satiety.
Whereas, if domestic pleasures can be combined with a little of the
formality which exists previous to marriage, all the advantages of the
married state are secured, while the monotony that too often kills
passion is avoided. Since he and Mary were to be really, if not legally,
man and wife, the time had come to test the truth of these ideas. The
plan he proposed was that they should be as independent of each other as
they had hitherto been, that the time spent together should not in any
way be restricted or regulated by stated hours, and that, in their
amusements and social intercourse, each should continue wholly free.

Mary readily acquiesced, though such a suggestion would probably never
have originated with her. Her heart was too large and warm for doubts,
where love was concerned. She was the very opposite of Godwin in this
respect. She had the poetic rather than the philosophic temperament, and
when she loved it was with an intensity that made analysis of her
feelings and their possible results out of the question. It is true that
in her "Rights of Women" she had shown that passion must inevitably lose
its first ardor, and that love between man and wife must in the course of
time become either friendship or indifference. But while she had reasoned
dispassionately in an abstract treatise, she had not been equally
temperate in the direction of her own affairs. Her love for Imlay had not
passed into the second stage, but his had deteriorated into indifference
very quickly. Godwin was, as she well knew, in every way unlike Imlay.
That she felt perfect confidence in him is seen by her willingness to
live with him. But still, sure as she was of his innate uprightness, when
he suggested to her means by which to insure the continuance of his love,
she was only too glad to adopt them. She had learned, if not to be
prudent herself, at least to comply with the prudence of others.

It would not be well perhaps for every one to follow their plan of life,
but with them it succeeded admirably. Godwin remained in his lodgings,
Mary in hers. He continued his old routine of work, made his usual round
of visits, and went by himself, as of yore, to the theatre, and to the
dinners and suppers of his friends. Mary pursued uninterruptedly her
studies and writings, conducted her domestic concerns in the same way,
and sought her amusements singly, sometimes meeting Godwin quite
unexpectedly at the play or in private houses. His visits to her were as
irregular in point of time as they had previously been, and when one
wanted to make sure of the other for a certain hour or at a certain
place, a regular engagement had to be made. The thoroughness with which
they maintained their independence is illustrated by the following note
which Mary sent to Godwin one morning, about a month before their

     "Did I not see you, friend Godwin, at the theatre last night? I
     thought I met a smile, but you went out without looking around."

She was not mistaken. Godwin has recorded in his diary that he was at the
theatre on that particular occasion. They not only did not inform each
other of their movements, but they even considered it unnecessary to
speak when they met by chance. Godwin's realization of his theory further
confirmed him in the belief that in this particular he was right. When he
wrote "St. Leon," he is supposed to have intended Marguerite, the
heroine, for the picture of his wife. In that novel, in his account of
the hero's domestic affairs, he indirectly testifies to the merits of his
own home-life. St. Leon says:--

     "We had each our separate pursuits, whether for the cultivation of
     our minds or the promotion of our mutual interests. Separation gave
     us respectability in each other's eyes, while it prepared us to
     enter with fresh ardor into society and conversation."

The peculiar terms on which they lived had at least one advantage. They
were the means of giving to later generations a clear insight into their
domestic relations. For, as the two occupied separate lodgings and were
apart during the greater part of the day, they often wrote to each other
concerning matters which people so united usually settle by word of
mouth. Godwin's diary was a record of bare facts. Mary never kept one.
There was no one else to describe their every-day life. This is exactly
what is accomplished by the notes which thus, while they are without
absolute merit, are of relative importance. They are really little
informal conversations on paper. To read them is like listening to some
one talking. They show how ready Mary was to enlist Godwin's sympathy on
all occasions, small as well as great, and how equally ready he was to be
interested. It is always a surprise to find that the children of light
are, despite their high mission, made of the same stuff as other men. It
is therefore strange to hear these two apostles of reform talking much in
the same strain as ordinary mortals, making engagements to dine on beef,
groaning over petty ailments and miseries, and greeting each other in
true _bon compagnon_ style. Mary's notes, like her letters to Imlay, are
essentially feminine. Short as they are, they are full of womanly
tenderness and weakness. Sometimes she wrote to invite Godwin to dinner
or to notify him that she intended calling at his apartments, at the same
time sending a bulletin of her health and of her plans for the day. At
others she seems to have written simply because she could not wait, even
a few hours, to make a desired explanation, to express an irrepressible
complaint, or to acquaint him with some domestic _contretemps_. The
following are fair specimens of this correspondence:--

       Jan. 5, 1797.

     _Thursday morning._--I was very glad that you were not with me last
     night, for I could not rouse myself. To say the truth, I was unwell
     and out of spirits; I am better to-day.

     I shall take a walk before dinner, and expect to see you this
     evening, _chez moi_, about eight, if you have no objection.

       Jan. 12, 1797.

     _Thursday morning._--I am better this morning, but it snows so
     incessantly that I do not know how I shall be able to keep my
     appointment this evening. What say you? But you have no petticoats
     to dangle in the snow. Poor women,--how they are beset with plagues
     within and without!

       Jan. 13, 1797.

     _Friday morning._--I believe I ought to beg your pardon for talking
     at you last night, though it was in sheer simplicity of heart, and
     I have been asking myself why it so happened. Faith and troth, it
     was because there was nobody else worth attacking, or who could
     converse. C. had wearied me before you entered. But be assured,
     when I find a man that has anything in him, I shall let my
     every-day dish alone.

     I send you the "Emma" for Mrs. Inchbald, supposing you have not
     altered your mind.

     Bring Holcroft's remarks with you, and Ben Jonson.

       Jan. 27, 1797.

     I am not well this morning. It is very tormenting to be thus,
     neither sick nor well, especially as you scarcely imagine me

     Women are certainly great fools; but nature made them so. I have
     not time or paper, else I could draw an inference, not very
     illustrative of your chance-medley system. But I spare the
     moth-like opinion; there is room enough in the world, etc.

       Feb. 3, 1797.

     _Friday morning._--Mrs. Inchbald was gone into the city to dinner,
     so I had to measure back my steps.

     To-day I find myself better, and, as the weather is fine, mean to
     call on Dr. Fordyce. I shall leave home about two o'clock. I tell
     you so, lest you should call after that hour. I do not think of
     visiting you in my way, because I seem inclined to be industrious.
     I believe I feel affectionate to you in proportion as I am in
     spirits; still I must not dally with you, when I can do anything
     else. There is a civil speech for you to chew.

       Feb. 22, 1797.

     Everina's [her sister was at this time staying with her] cold is
     still so bad, that unless pique urges her, she will not go out
     to-day. For to-morrow I think I may venture to promise. I will
     call, if possible, this morning. I know I must come before half
     after one; but if you hear nothing more from me, you had better
     come to my house this evening.

     Will you send the second volume of "Caleb," and pray _lend_ me a
     bit of Indian-rubber. I have lost mine. Should you be obliged to
     quit home before the hour I have mentioned, say. You will not
     forget that we are to dine at four. I wish to be exact, because I
     have promised to let Mary go and assist her brother this afternoon.
     I have been tormented all this morning by puss, who has had four or
     five fits. I could not conceive what occasioned them, and took care
     that she should not be terrified. But she flew up my chimney, and
     was so wild, that I thought it right to have her drowned. Fanny
     imagines that she was sick and ran away.

       March 11, 1797.

     _Saturday morning._--I must dine to-day with Mrs. Christie, and
     mean to return as early as I can; they seldom dine before five.

     Should you call and find only books, have a little patience, and I
     shall be with you.

     Do not give Fanny a cake to-day. I am afraid she stayed too long
     with you yesterday.

     You are to dine with me on Monday, remember; the salt beef awaits
     your pleasure.

       March 17, 1797.

     _Friday morning._--And so, you goose, you lost your supper, and
     deserved to lose it, for not desiring Mary to give you some beef.

     There is a good boy, write me a review of Vaurien. I remember there
     is an absurd attack on a Methodist preacher because he denied the
     eternity of future punishments.

     I should be glad to have the Italian, were it possible, this week,
     because I promised to let Johnson have it this week.

These notes speak for themselves.

There was now a decided improvement in the lives of both Mary and Godwin.
The latter, under the new influence, was humanized. Domestic ties, which
he had never known before, softened him. He hereafter appears not only as
the passionless philosopher, but as the loving husband and the
affectionate father, little Fanny Imlay being treated by him as if she
had been his own child. His love transformed him from a mere student of
men to a man like all others. He who had always been, so far as his
emotional nature was concerned, apart from the rest of his kind, was, in
the end, one with them. From being a sceptic on the subject, he was
converted into a firm believer in human passion. With the zeal usually
attributed to converts, he became as warm in his praise of the emotions
as he had before been indifferent in his estimation of them. This change
is greatly to Mary's credit. As, in his Introduction to "St. Leon" he
made his public recantation of faith, so in the course of the story he
elaborated his new doctrines, and, by so doing, paid tribute to the woman
who had wrought the wonder. His hero's description of married pleasures
being based on his own knowledge of them, he writes:--

     "Now only it was that I tasted of perfect happiness. To judge from
     my own experience in this situation, I should say that nature has
     atoned for all the disasters and miseries she so copiously and
     incessantly pours upon her sons by this one gift, the transcendent
     enjoyment and nameless delights which, wherever the heart is pure
     and the soul is refined, wait on the attachment of two persons of
     opposite sexes.... It has been said to be a peculiar felicity for
     any one to be praised by a man who is himself eminently a subject
     of praise; how much happier to be prized and loved by a person
     worthy of love. A man may be prized and valued by his friend; but
     in how different a style of sentiment from the regard and
     attachment that may reign in the bosom of his mistress or his
     wife.... In every state we long for some fond bosom on which to
     rest our weary head; some speaking eye with which to exchange the
     glances of intelligence and affection. Then the soul warms and
     expands itself; then it shuns the observation of every other
     beholder; then it melts with feelings that are inexpressible, but
     which the heart understands without the aid of words; then the eyes
     swim with rapture, then the frame languishes with enjoyment; then
     the soul burns with fire; then the two persons thus blest are no
     longer two; distance vanishes, one thought animates, one mind
     informs them. Thus love acts; thus it is ripened to perfection;
     never does man feel himself so much alive, so truly ethereal, as
     when, bursting the bonds of diffidence, uncertainty, and reserve,
     he pours himself entire into the bosom of the woman he adores."

Mary was as much metamorphosed by her new circumstances as Godwin. Her
heart at rest, she grew gay and happy. She was at all times, even when
harassed with cares, thoughtful of other people. When her own troubles
had ceased, her increased kindliness was shown in many little ways, which
unfortunately cannot be appreciated by posterity, but which made her, to
her contemporaries, a more than ever delightful companion and sympathetic
friend. "She had always possessed," Godwin says of her, "in an
unparalleled degree the art of communicating happiness, and she was now
in the constant and unlimited exercise of it. She seemed to have attained
that situation which her disposition and character imperiously demanded,
but which she had never before attained; and her understanding and her
heart felt the benefit of it." She never at any time tried to hide her
feelings, whatever these might be; therefore she did not disguise her
new-found happiness, though she gave no reason for its existence. It
revealed itself in her face, in her manners, and even in her
conversation. "The serenity of her countenance," again to quote Godwin,
best of all authorities for this period of her life, "the increasing
sweetness of her manners, and that consciousness of enjoyment that seemed
ambitious that every one she saw should be happy as well as herself, were
matters of general observation to all her acquaintance." Her beauty,
depending so much more upon expression than upon charm of coloring or
regularity of features, naturally developed rather than decreased with
years. Suffering and happiness had left their impress upon her face,
giving it the strength, the strange melancholy, and the tenderness which
characterize her portrait, painted by Opie about this time. Southey, who
was just then visiting London, bears witness to her striking personal
appearance. He wrote to his friend Cottle:--

     "Of all the lions or _literati_ I have seen here, Mary Imlay's
     countenance is the best, infinitely the best; the only fault in it
     is an expression somewhat similar to what the prints of Horne Tooke
     display,--an expression indicating superiority, not haughtiness,
     not sarcasm in Mary Imlay, but still it is unpleasant. Her eyes are
     light brown, and although the lid of one of them is affected by a
     little paralysis, they are the most meaning I ever saw."{1}

  {1} Mr. Kegan Paul, in the spring of 1884, showed the author of this
      Life a lock of Mary Wollstonecraft's hair. It is wonderfully
      soft in texture, and in color a rich auburn, turning to gold in
      the sunlight.

On March 29, 1797, after they had lived together happily and serenely for
seven months, Mary and Godwin were married. The marriage ceremony was
performed at old Saint Pancras Church, in London, and Mr. Marshal, their
mutual friend, and the clerk were the only witnesses. So unimportant did
it seem to Godwin, to whom reason was more binding than any conventional
form, that he never mentioned it in his diary, though in the latter he
kept a strict account of his daily actions. It meant as little to Mary as
it did to him, and she playfully alluded to the change, in one of her
notes written a day or two afterwards:

       March 31, 1797.

     _Tuesday._--I return you the volumes; will you get me the rest? I
     have not perhaps given it as careful a reading as some of the
     sentiments deserve.

     Pray send me by Mary, for my luncheon, a part of the supper you
     announced to me last night, as I am to be a partaker of your
     worldly goods, you know!

They were induced to take this step, not by any dissatisfaction with the
nature of the connection they had already formed, but by the fact that
Mary was soon to become a mother for the second time. Godwin explains
that "she was unwilling, and perhaps with reason, to incur that exclusion
from the society of many valuable and excellent individuals, which custom
awards in cases of this sort. I should have felt an extreme repugnance to
the having caused her such an inconvenience." But probably another
equally strong motive was, that both had at heart the welfare of their
unborn child. In Godwin's ideal state of society, illegitimacy would be
no disgrace. But men were very far from having attained it; and children
born of unmarried parents were still treated as if they were criminals.
Mary doubtlessly realized the bitterness in store for Fanny, through no
fault of her own, and was unwilling to bring another child into the world
to meet so cruel a fate. So long as their actions affected no one but
themselves, she and Godwin could plead a right to bid defiance to society
and its customs, since they were willing to bear the penalty; but once
they became responsible for a third life, they were no longer free
agents. The duties they would thereby incur were so many arguments for
compliance with social laws.

At first they told no one of their marriage. Mrs. Shelley gives two
reasons for their silence. Godwin was very sensitive to criticism,
perhaps even more so than Mary. He confessed once to Holcroft: "Though I
certainly give myself credit for intellectual powers, yet I have a
failing which I have never been able to overcome. I am so cowed and cast
down by rude and unqualified assault, that for a time I am unable to
recover." This was true not only in connection with his literary work,
but with all his relations in life. He knew that severe comments would be
called forth by an act in direct contradiction to doctrines he had
emphatically preached. His adherents would condemn him as an apostate.
His enemies would accept his practical retraction of one of his theories
as a proof of the unsoundness of the rest. It required no little courage
to submit to such an ordeal. But the other motive for secrecy was more
urgent. Mary, after Imlay left her, was penniless. She resumed at once
her old tasks. But her expenses were greater than they had been, and her
free time less, since she had to provide for and take care of Fanny.
Besides, Imlay's departure had caused certain money complications. Mr.
Johnson and other kind friends, however, were now, as always, ready to
help her out of pressing difficulties, and to assume the debts which she
could not meet. Godwin, who had made it a rule of life not to earn more
money than was absolutely necessary for his very small wants, and who had
never looked forward to maintaining a family, could not at once
contribute towards Mary's support, or relieve her financial
embarrassments. The announcement of their marriage would be the signal
for her friends to cease giving her their aid, and she could not, as yet,
settle her affairs alone. This was the difficulty which forced them into
temporary silence.

However, to secure the end for which they had married, long concealment
was impossible. Godwin applied to Mr. Thomas Wedgwood of Etruria for a
loan of £50, without giving him any explanation for his request, though
he was sure, on account of his well-known economy and simple habits, it
would appear extraordinary. This sum enabled Mary to tide over her
present emergency, and the marriage was made public on the 6th of April,
a few days after the ceremony had been performed. One of the first to
whom Godwin told the news was Miss Hayes. This was but fair, since it was
under her auspices that they renewed their acquaintance to such good
purpose. His note is dated April 10:--

     "My fair neighbor desires me to announce to you a piece of news
     which it is consonant to the regard which she and I entertain for
     you, you should rather learn from us than from any other quarter.
     She bids me remind you of the earnest way in which you pressed me
     to prevail upon her to change her name, and she directs me to add
     that it has happened to me, like many other disputants, to be
     entrapped in my own toils; in short, that we found that there was
     no way so obvious for her to drop the name of Imlay as to assume
     the name of Godwin. Mrs. Godwin--who the devil is that?--will be
     glad to see you at No. 29 Polygon, Somer's Town, whenever you are
     inclined to favor her with a call."

About ten days later he wrote to Mr. Wedgwood, and his letter confirms
Mrs. Shelley's statement. His effort to prove that his conduct was not
inconsistent with his creed shows how keenly he felt the criticisms it
would evoke; and his demand for more money reveals the slender state of
the finances of husband and wife:--

       April 19, 1797.

     You have by this time heard from B. Montague of my marriage. This
     was the solution of my late application to you, which I promised
     speedily to communicate. Some persons have found an inconsistency
     between my practice in this instance and my doctrines. But I cannot
     see it. The doctrine of my "Political Justice" is, that an
     attachment in some degree permanent between two persons of opposite
     sexes is right, but that marriage as practised in European
     countries is wrong. I still adhere to that opinion. Nothing but a
     regard for the happiness of the individual which I had no right to
     injure could have induced me to submit to an institution which I
     wish to see abolished, and which I would recommend to my fellow-men
     never to practise but with the greatest caution. Having done what I
     thought necessary for the peace and respectability of the
     individual, I hold myself no otherwise bound than I was before the
     ceremony took place.

     It is possible, however, that you will not see the subject in the
     same light, and I perhaps went too far, when I presumed to suppose
     that if you were acquainted with the nature of the case, you would
     find it to be such as to make the interference I requested of you
     appear reasonable. I trust you will not accuse me of duplicity in
     having told you that it was not for myself that I wanted your
     assistance. You will perceive that that remark was in reference to
     the seeming inconsistency between my habits of economy and
     independence, and the application in question.

     I can see no reason to doubt that, as we are both successful
     authors, we shall be able by our literary exertions, though with no
     other fortune, to maintain ourselves either separately or, which is
     more desirable, jointly. The loan I requested of you was rendered
     necessary by some complication in her pecuniary affairs, the
     consequence of her former connection, the particulars of which you
     have probably heard. Now that we have entered into a new mode of
     living, which will probably be permanent, I find a further supply
     of fifty pounds will be necessary to enable us to start fair. This
     you shall afford us, if you feel perfectly assured of its
     propriety; but if there be the smallest doubt in your mind, I shall
     be much more gratified by your obeying that doubt, than superseding
     it. I do not at present feel inclined to remain long in any man's
     debt, not even in yours. As to the not having published our
     marriage at first, I yielded in that to her feelings. Having
     settled the principal point in conformity to her interests, I felt
     inclined to leave all inferior matters to her disposal.

     We do not entirely cohabit.

       W. GODWIN.

Strange to say, the announcement of their marriage did not produce quite
so satisfactory an effect as they had anticipated. Mary, notwithstanding
her frank protest, was still looked upon as Imlay's wife. Her intimate
connection with Godwin had been very generally understood, but not
absolutely known, and hence it had not ostracized her socially. If
conjectures and comments were made, they were whispered, and not uttered
aloud. But the marriage had to be recognized, and the fact that Mary was
free to marry Godwin, though Imlay was alive, was an incontrovertible
proof that her relation to the latter had been illegal. People who had
been deaf to her statements could not ignore this formal demonstration of
their truth. Hitherto, their friendliness to her could not be construed
into approval of her unconventionality. But now, by continuing to visit
her and receive her at their houses, they would be countenancing an
offence against morality which the world ranks with the unpardonable
sins. They might temporize with their own consciences, but not with
public opinion. They were therefore in a dilemma, from which there was no
middle course of extrication. Thus forced to decisive measures, a number
of her friends felt obliged to forego all acquaintance with her. Two whom
she then lost, and whom she most deeply regretted, were Mrs. Siddons and
Mrs. Inchbald. In speaking of their secession, Godwin says: "Mrs.
Siddons, I am sure, regretted the necessity which she conceived to be
imposed on her by the peculiarity of her situation, to conform to the
rules I have described." Mrs. Inchbald wept when she heard the news.
Godwin was one of her highly valued friends and admirers, and was a
constant visitor at her house. She feared, now he had a wife, his visits
would be less frequent. Her conduct on this occasion was so ungracious
that one wonders if her vanity were not more deeply wounded than her
moral sensibility. Her congratulations seem inspired by personal pique,
rather than by strong principle. She wrote and wished Godwin joy, and
then declared that she was so sure his new-found happiness would make him
forgetful of all other engagements, that she had invited some one else to
take his place at the theatre on a certain night when they had intended
going together. "If I have done wrong," she told him, "when you next
marry, I will do differently." Notwithstanding her note, Godwin thought
her friendship would stand the test to which he had put it, and both he
and Mary accompanied her on the appointed night. But Mrs. Inchbald was
very much in earnest, and did not hesitate to show her feelings. She
spoke to Mary in a way that Godwin later declared to be "base, cruel, and
insulting;" adding, "There were persons in the box who heard it, and they
thought as I do." The breach thus made was never completely healed. Mr.
and Mrs. Twiss, at whose house Mary had hitherto been cordially welcomed,
also sacrificed her friendship to what, Godwin says, they were "silly
enough to think a proper etiquette."

But there still remained men and women of larger minds and hearts who
fully appreciated that Mary's case was exceptional, and not to be judged
by ordinary standards. The majority of her acquaintances, knowing that
her intentions were pure, though her actions were opposed to accepted
ideals of purity, were brave enough to regulate their behavior to her by
their convictions. Beautiful Mrs. Reveley was as much moved as Mrs.
Inchbald when she heard the news of Godwin's marriage, but her friendship
was formed in a finer mould. Mrs. Shelley says that "she feared to lose a
kind and constant friend; but becoming intimate with Mary Wollstonecraft,
she soon learnt to appreciate her virtues and to love her. She soon
found, as she told me in after days, that instead of losing one she had
secured two friends, unequalled, perhaps, in the world for genius,
single-heartedness, and nobleness of disposition, and a cordial
intercourse subsisted between them." It was from Mrs. Reveley that Mrs.
Shelley obtained most of her information about her mother's married life.
Men like Johnson, Basil Montague, Thomas Wedgwood, Horne Tooke, Thomas
Holcroft, did not of course allow the marriage to interfere with their
friendship. It is rather strange that Fuseli should have now been willing
enough to be civil. Marriage, in his opinion, had restored Mary to
respectability. "You have not, perhaps, heard," he wrote to a friend,
"that the assertrix of female rights has given her hand to the
_balancier_ of political justice." He not only called on Mrs. Godwin, but
he dined with her, an experiment, however, which did not prove
pleasurable, for Horne Tooke, Curran, and Grattan were of the party, and
they discussed politics. Fuseli, who loved nothing better than to talk,
had never a chance to say a word. "I wonder you invited me to meet such
wretched company," he exclaimed to Mary in disgust.

Thomas Holcroft, one of the four men whom Godwin acknowledged to have
greatly influenced him, wrote them an enthusiastic letter of
congratulation. Addressing them both, he says:--

     "From my very heart and soul I give you joy. I think you the most
     extraordinary married pair in existence. May your happiness be as
     pure as I firmly persuade myself it must be. I hope and expect to
     see you both, and very soon. If you show coldness, or refuse me,
     you will do injustice to a heart which, since it has really known
     you, never for a moment felt cold to you.

     "I cannot be mistaken concerning the woman you have married. It is
     Mrs. W. Your secrecy a little pains me. It tells me you do not yet
     know me."

This latter paragraph is explained by the fact that Godwin, when he wrote
to inform Holcroft of his marriage, was so sure the latter would
understand whom he had chosen that he never mentioned Mary's name.
Another friend who rejoiced in her new-found happiness was Mr. Archibald
Hamilton Rowan. But he was then living near Wilmington, Delaware, and the
news was long in reaching him. His letter of congratulation was,
strangely enough, written the very day on which Mary was buried.

The announcement of this marriage was received in Norfolk by the Godwin
family with pleasure. Mrs. Godwin, poor old lady, thought that if her son
could thus alter his moral code, there was a greater chance of his being
converted from his spiritual backslidings. She wrote one of her long
letters, so curious because of their medley of pious sentiment and
prosaic realism, and wished Godwin and his wife happiness in her own name
and that of all his friends in her part of the country. Her good will to
Mary was practically expressed by an invitation to her house and a
present of eggs, together with an offer of a feather-bed. Her motherly
warning and advice to them was:--

     "My dears, whatever you do, do not make invitations and
     entertainments. That was what hurt Jo. Live comfortable with one
     another. The Hart of her husband safely trusts in her. I cannot
     give you no better advice than out of Proverbs, the Prophets, and
     New Testament. My best affections attend you both."

Mary's family were not so cordial. Everina and Mrs. Bishop apparently
never quite forgave her for the letter she wrote after her return to
England with Imlay, and they disapproved of her marriage. They complained
that her strange course of conduct made it doubly difficult for them, as
her sisters, to find situations. When, shortly after the marriage, Godwin
went to stay a day or two at Etruria, Everina, who was then governess in
the Wedgwood household, would not at first come down to see him, and, as
far as can be judged from his letters, treated him very coolly throughout
his visit.

Godwin and Mary now made their joint home in the Polygon, Somer's Town.
But the former had his separate lodgings in the Evesham Buildings, where
he went every morning to work, and where he sometimes spent the night.
They saw little, if any, more of each other than they had before, and
were as independent in their goings-out and comings-in. On the 8th of
April, when the news was just being spread, Mary wrote to Godwin, as if
to assure him that she, for her part, intended to discourage the least
change in their habits. She says:--

     "I have just thought that it would be very pretty in you to call on
     Johnson to-day. It would spare me some awkwardness, and please him;
     and I want you to visit him often on a Tuesday. This is quite
     disinterested, as I shall never be of the party. Do, you would
     oblige me. But when I press anything, it is always with a true
     wifish submission to your judgment and inclination. Remember to
     leave the key of No. 25 with us, on account of the wine."

While Mary seconded Godwin in his domestic theories, there were times
when less independence would have pleased her better. She had been
obliged to fight the battle of life alone, and, when the occasion
required it, she was equal to meeting single-handed whatever difficulties
might arise. But instinctively she preferred to lean upon others for
protection and help. Godwin would never wittingly have been selfish or
cruel in withholding his assistance. But, as each had agreed to go his
and her own way, it no more occurred to him to interfere with what he
thought her duties, than it would have pleased him had she interfered
with his. She had consented to his proposition, and in accepting her
consent, he had not been wise enough to read between the lines. Much as
he loved Mary, he never seems to have really understood her. She had now
to take entire charge of matters which her friends had hitherto been
eager to attend to for her. They could not well come forward, once it had
become Godwin's right to do what to them had been a privilege. Mary felt
their loss and his indifference, and frankly told him so:--

     "I am not well to-day," she wrote in one of their little
     conversational notes, dated the 11th of April; "my spirits have
     been harassed. Mary will tell you about the state of the sink, etc.
     Do you know you plague me--a little--by not speaking more
     determinately to the landlord, of whom I have a mean opinion. He
     tires me by his pitiful way of doing everything. I like a man who
     will say yes or no at once."

The trouble seems to have been not easily disposed of, for the same day
she wrote again, this time with some degree of temper:--

     "I wish you would desire Mr. Marshal to call on me. Mr. Johnson or
     somebody has always taken the disagreeable business of settling
     with tradespeople off my hands. I am perhaps as unfit as yourself
     to do it, and my time appears to me as valuable as that of other
     persons accustomed to employ themselves. Things of this kind are
     easily settled with money, I know; but I am tormented by the want
     of money, and feel, to say the truth, as if I was not treated with
     respect, owing to your desire not to be disturbed."

These were mere passing clouds over the bright horizon of their lives,
such as it is almost impossible for any two people living together in the
same relationship to escape. Both were sensitive, and each had certain
qualities peculiarly calculated to irritate the other. Mary was
quick-tempered and nervous. Godwin was cool and methodical. With Mary,
love was the first consideration; Godwin, who had lived alone for many
years, was ruled by habit. Their natures were so dissimilar, that
occasional interruptions to their peace were unavoidable. But these never
developed into serious warfare. They loved each other too honestly to
cherish ill-feeling. Godwin wrote to Mary one morning,--

     "I am pained by the recollection of our conversation last night [of
     the conversation there is unfortunately no record]. The sole
     principle of conduct of which I am conscious in my behavior to you
     has been in everything to study your happiness. I found a wounded
     heart, and as that heart cast itself on me, it was my ambition to
     heal it. Do not let me be wholly disappointed.

     "Let me have the relief of seeing you this morning. If I do not
     call before you go out, call on me."

He was not disappointed. A reconciliatory interview must have taken
place, for on the very same day Mary wrote him this essentially friendly

     "Fanny is delighted with the thought of dining with you. But I wish
     you to eat your meat first, and let her come up with the pudding. I
     shall probably knock at your door in my way to Opie's; but should I
     not find you, let me request you not to be too late this evening.
     Do not give Fanny butter with her pudding."

"Ours was not an idle happiness, a paradise of selfish and transitory
pleasures," Godwin asserts in referring to the months of their married
life. Mary never let her work come to a standstill. Idleness was a
failing unknown to her, nor had marriage, as has been seen, lessened the
necessity of industry. Indeed, it was now especially important that she
should exert her powers of working to the utmost, which is probably the
reason that little remains to show as product of this period. Reviewing
and translating were still more profitable, because more certain, than
original writing; and her notes to Godwin prove by their allusions that
Johnson continued to keep her supplied with employment of this kind. She
had several larger schemes afoot, for the accomplishment of which nothing
was wanting but time. She proposed, among other things, to write a series
of letters on the management of infants. This was a subject to which in
earlier years she had given much attention, and her experience with her
own child had been a practical confirmation of conclusions then formed.
This was to have been followed by another series of books for the
instruction of children. The latter project was really the older of the
two. Her remarks on education in the "Rights of Women" make it a matter
of regret that she did not live to carry it out. But her chief literary
enterprise during the last year of her life was her story of "Maria; or,
The Wrongs of Woman." Her interest in it as an almost personal narrative,
and her desire to make it a really good novel, were so great that she
wrote and rewrote parts of it many times. She devoted more hours to it
than would be supposed possible, judging from the rapidity with which her
other books were produced.

But, however busy she might be, she was always at leisure to do good.
Business was never an excuse for her to decline the offices of humanity.
Everina was her guest during this year, and at a time, too, when it was
particularly inconvenient for her to have visitors. Her kindness also
revealed itself in many minor ways. When she had to choose between her
own pleasure and that of others, she was sure to decide in their favor. A
proof of her readiness to sacrifice herself in small matters is contained
in the following note, written to Godwin:--

       _Saturday morning_, May 21, 1797.

     ... Montague called on me this morning, that is, breakfasted with
     me, and invited me to go with him and the Wedgwoods into the
     country to-morrow and return the next day. As I love the country,
     and think, with a poor mad woman I know, that there is God or
     something very consolatory in the air, I should without hesitation
     have accepted the invitation, but for my engagement with your
     sister. To her even I should have made an apology, could I have
     seen her, or rather have stated that the circumstance would not
     occur again. As it is, I am afraid of wounding her feelings,
     because an engagement often becomes important in proportion as it
     has been anticipated. I began to write to ask your opinion
     respecting the propriety of sending to her, and feel as I write
     that I had better conquer my desire of contemplating
     unsophisticated nature, than give her a moment's pain.




During the month of June of this year, Godwin made a pleasure trip into
Staffordshire with Basil Montague. The two friends went in a carriage,
staying over night at the houses of different acquaintances, and were
absent for a little more than a fortnight. Godwin, while away, made his
usual concise entries in his diary, but to his wife he wrote long and
detailed accounts of his travels. The guide-book style of his letters is
somewhat redeemed by occasional outbursts of tenderness, pleasant to read
as evidences that he could give Mary the demonstrations of affection
which to her were so indispensable. By his playful messages to little
Fanny and his interest in his unborn child, it can be seen that, despite
his bachelor habits, domestic life had become very dear to him. Fatigue
and social engagements could not make him forget his promise to bring the
former a mug. "Tell her" [that is, Fanny], he writes, "I have not
forgotten her little mug, and that I shall choose her a very pretty one."
And again, "Tell Fanny I have chosen a mug for her, and another for
Lucas. There is an F. on hers and an L. on his, shaped in an island of
flowers of green and orange-tawny alternately." He warns Mary to be
careful of herself, assuring her that he remembers at all times the
condition of her health, and wishes he could hear from moment to moment
how she feels. He and Montague, riding out early in the morning, recall
the important fact that it is the very hour at which "little Fanny is
going to plungity-plunge." When Mary's letters are accidentally detained
he is as worried and hurt as she would be under similar circumstances.
From Etruria he writes:--

     "Another evening and no letter. This is scarcely kind. I reminded
     you in time that it would be impossible to write to me after
     Saturday, though it is not improbable you may not see me before the
     Saturday following. What am I to think? How many possible accidents
     will the anxiety of affection present to one's thoughts! Not
     serious ones, I hope; in that case I trust I should have heard. But
     headaches, but sickness of the heart, a general loathing of life
     and of me. Do not give place to this worst of diseases! The least I
     can think is that you recollect me with less tenderness and
     impatience than I reflect on you. There is a general sadness in the
     sky; the clouds are shutting around me and seem depressed with
     moisture; everything turns the soul to melancholy. Guess what my
     feelings are when the most soothing and consolatory thought that
     occurs is a temporary remission and oblivion in your affections.

     "I had scarcely finished the above when I received your letter
     accompanying T. W.'s, which was delayed by an accident till after
     the regular arrival of the post. I am not sorry to have put down my
     feelings as they were."

But even his tenderness is regulated by his philosophy. The lover becomes
the philosopher quite unconsciously:--

     "One of the pleasures I promised myself in my excursion," he writes
     in another letter, "was to increase my value in your estimation,
     and I am not disappointed. What we possess without intermission, we
     inevitably hold light; it is a refinement in voluptuousness to
     submit to voluntary privations. Separation is the image of death,
     but it is death stripped of all that is most tremendous, and his
     dart purged of its deadly venom. I always thought Saint Paul's
     rule, that we should die daily, an exquisite Epicurean maxim. The
     practice of it would give to life a double relish."

Imlay, too, had found absence a stimulus to love, but there was this
difference in what at first appears to be a similarity of opinion between
himself and Godwin: while the former sought it that he might not tire of
Mary, the latter hoped it would keep her from growing tired of him.

Mary's letters to her husband are full of the tender love which no woman
knew how to express as well as she did. They are not as passionate and
burning as those to Imlay, but they are sincerely and lovingly
affectionate, and reveal an ever increasing devotion and a calmer
happiness than that she had derived from her first union. Godwin,
fortunately, was able to appreciate them:--

     "You cannot imagine," he tells her on the 10th of June, "how happy
     your letter made me. No creature expresses, because no creature
     feels, the tender affections so perfectly as you do; and, after all
     one's philosophy, it must be confessed that the knowledge that
     there is some one that takes an interest in one's happiness,
     something like that which each man feels in his own, is extremely
     gratifying. We love, as it were, to multiply the consciousness of
     our existence, even at the hazard of what Montague described so
     pathetically one night upon the New Road, of opening new avenues
     for pain and misery to attack us."

The letter to which he refers is probably the following, written two
days after his departure:--

     It was so kind and considerate in you to write sooner than I
     expected, that I cannot help hoping you would be disappointed at
     not receiving a greeting from me on your arrival at Etruria. If
     your heart was in your mouth, as I felt, just now, at the sight of
     your hand, you may kiss or shake hands with the letter, and imagine
     with what affection it was written. If not, stand off, profane one!

     I was not quite well the day after you left me; but it is past, and
     I am well and tranquil, excepting the disturbance produced by
     Master William's joy, who took it into his head to frisk a little
     at being informed of your remembrance. I begin to love this little
     creature, and to anticipate his birth as a fresh twist to a knot
     which I do not wish to untie. Men are spoilt by frankness, I
     believe, yet I must tell you that I love you better than I supposed
     I did, when I promised to love you forever. And I will add what
     will gratify your benevolence, if not your heart, that on the whole
     I may be termed happy. You are a kind, affectionate creature, and I
     feel it thrilling through my frame, giving and promising pleasure.

     Fanny wants to know "what you are gone for," and endeavors to
     pronounce Etruria. Poor papa is her word of kindness. She has been
     turning your letter on all sides, and has promised to play with
     Bobby till I have finished my answer.

     I find you can write the kind of letter a friend ought to write,
     and give an account of your movements. I hailed the sunshine and
     moonlight, and travelled with you, scenting the fragrant gale.
     Enable me still to be your company, and I will allow you to peep
     over my shoulder, and see me under the shade of my green blind,
     thinking of you, and all I am to hear and feel when you return. You
     may read my heart, if you will.

     I have no information to give in return for yours. Holcroft is to
     dine with me on Saturday; so do not forget us when you drink your
     solitary glass, for nobody drinks wine at Etruria, I take it. Tell
     me what you think of Everina's situation and behavior, and treat
     her with as much kindness as you can,--that is, a little more than
     her manner will probably call forth,--and I will repay you.

     I am not fatigued with solitude, yet I have not relished my
     solitary dinner. A husband is a convenient part of the furniture of
     a house, unless he be a clumsy fixture. I wish you, from my soul,
     to be riveted in my heart; but I do not desire to have you always
     at my elbow, although at this moment I should not care if you were.
     Yours truly and tenderly,


     Fanny forgets not the mug.

     Miss Pinkerton seems content. I was amused by a letter she wrote
     home. She has more in her than comes out of her mouth. My dinner is
     ready, and it is washing-day. I am putting everything in order for
     your return. Adieu!

Once during this trip the peaceful intercourse between husband and wife
was interrupted. Godwin might philosophize to his heart's content about
the advantages of separation, but Mary could not be so sure of them.
Absence in Imlay's case had not in the end brought about very good
results; and as the days went by, Godwin's letters, at least so it seemed
to her, became more descriptive and statistical, and less tender and
affectionate. Interest in Dr. Parr and the Wedgwoods and the country
through which he was travelling overshadowed for the time being matters
of mere sentiment. With the memory of another correspondence from which
love had gradually disappeared, still fresh, she felt this change
bitterly, and reproached Godwin for it in very plain language:--

       June 19, Monday, _almost 12 o'clock_.

     One of the pleasures you tell me that you promised yourself from
     your journey was the effect your absence might produce on me.
     Certainly at first my affection was increased, or rather was more
     alive. But now it is just the contrary. Your later letters might
     have been addressed to anybody, and will serve to remind you where
     you have been, though they resemble nothing less than mementos of

     I wrote to you to Dr. Parr's; you take no notice of my letter.
     Previous to your departure, I requested you not to torment me by
     leaving the day of your return undecided. But whatever tenderness
     you took away with you seems to have evaporated on the journey, and
     new objects and the homage of vulgar minds restored you to your icy

     You tell me that your journey could not take less than three days,
     therefore, as you were to visit Dr. D.[arwin]. and Dr. P.[arr],
     Saturday was the probable day. You saw neither, yet you have been a
     week on the road. I did not wonder, but approved of your visit to
     Mr. Bage. But a _show_ which you waited to see, and did not see,
     appears to have been equally attractive. I am at a loss to guess
     how you could have been from Saturday to Sunday night travelling
     from Coventry to Cambridge. In short, your being so late to-night,
     and the chance of your not coming, shows so little consideration,
     that unless you suppose me to be a stick or a stone, you must have
     forgot to think, as well as to feel, since you have been on the
     wing. I am afraid to add what I feel. Good-night.

This misunderstanding, however, was not of long duration. The "little
rift" in their case never widened to make their life-music mute. Godwin
returned to London, his love in nowise diminished, and all ill-feeling
and doubts were completely effaced from Mary's mind. His shortcomings
were after all not due to any change in his affections, nor to the
slightest suspicion of satiety. By writing long letters with careful
description of everything he saw and did, he was treating Mary as he
would have desired to be treated himself. His "icy philosophy," which
made him so undemonstrative, was not altogether to her liking, but it was
incomparably better than the warmth of a man like Imlay, who was too
indifferent as to the individuality of the object of his demonstrations.
The uprightness of Godwin precluded all possibility of infidelity, and
once Mary's first disappointment at some new sign of his coldness was
over, her confidence in him was unabated. After this short interruption
to their semi-domestic life, they both resumed their old habits. Their
separate establishments were still kept up, their social amusements
continued, though Mary, because of the condition of her health, could not
now enter into them quite so freely, and the little notes again began to
pass between them. These were as amicable as they had ever been. In the
two following, the familiar friendly style of this curious correspondence
is not in the least impaired. The first is interesting in showing how far
she was from accepting her husband's opinion when her own reason was
opposed to it, and also in giving an idea of the esteem in which she was
held socially:--

       June 25, 1797.

     I know that you do not like me to go to Holcroft's. I think you
     right in the principle, but a little wrong in the present

     When I lived alone, I always dined on a Sunday with company, in the
     evening, if not at dinner, at St. P.[aul's with Johnson],
     generally also of a Tuesday, and some other day at Fuseli's.

     I like to see new faces as a study, and since my return from
     Norway, or rather since I have accepted of invitations, I have
     dined every third Sunday at Twiss's, nay, oftener, for they sent
     for me when they had any extraordinary company. I was glad to go,
     because my lodging was noisy of a Sunday, and Mr. S.'s house and
     spirits were so altered, that my visits depressed him instead of
     exhilarating me.

     I am, then, you perceive, thrown out of my track, and have not
     traced another. But so far from wishing to obtrude on yours, I had
     written to Mrs. Jackson, and mentioned Sunday, and am now sorry
     that I did not fix on to-day as one of the days for sitting for my

     To Mr. Johnson I would go without ceremony, but it is not
     convenient for me at present to make haphazard visits.

     Should Carlisle chance to call on you this morning, send him to me,
     but by himself, for he often has a companion with him, which would
     defeat my purpose.

The second note is even more friendly:--

       _Monday morning_, July 3, 1797.

     Mrs. Reveley can have no doubt about to-day, so we are to stay at
     home. I have a design upon you this evening to keep you quite to
     myself--I hope nobody will call!--and make you read the play.

     I was thinking of a favorite song of my poor friend Fanny's: "In a
     vacant rainy day, you shall be wholly mine," etc.

     Unless the weather prevents you from taking your accustomed walk,
     call on me this morning, for I have something to say to you.

But a short period of happiness now remained to them. Mary expected to be
confined about the end of August, and she awaited that event with no
misgivings. She had been perfectly strong and well when Fanny was born.
She considered women's illness on such occasions due much more to
imaginative than to physical causes, and her health through the past few
months had been, save for one or two trifling ailments, uncommonly good.
There was really no reason for her to fear the consequences. Both she and
Godwin looked forward with pleasure to the arrival of their first son, as
they hoped the child would prove to be.

She was taken ill early on Wednesday morning, the 30th of August, and
sent at once for Mrs. Blenkinsop, matron and midwife to the Westminster
Lying-in Hospital. Godwin says that, "influenced by ideas of decorum,
which certainly ought to have no place, at least in cases of danger, she
determined to have a woman to attend her in the capacity of midwife." But
it seems much more in keeping with her character that the engagement of
Mrs. Blenkinsop was due, not so much to motives of decorum as to her
desire to uphold women in a sphere of action for which she believed them
eminently fitted. Godwin went as usual to his rooms in the Evesham
Buildings. Mary specially desired that he should not remain in the house,
and to reassure him that all was well, she wrote him several notes during
the course of the morning. These have no counterpart in the whole
literature of letters. They are, in their way, unique:

       Aug. 30, 1797.

     I have no doubt of seeing the animal to-day, but must wait for Mrs.
     Blenkinsop to guess at the hour. I have sent for her. Pray send me
     the newspaper. I wish I had a novel or some book of sheer
     amusement to excite curiosity and while away the time. Have you
     anything of the kind?

       Aug. 30, 1797.

     Mrs. Blenkinsop tells me that everything is in a fair way, and that
     there is no fear of the event being put off till another day. Still
     _at present_ she thinks I shall not immediately be freed from my
     load. I am very well. Call before dinner-time, unless you receive
     another message from me.

       _Three o'clock_, Aug. 30, 1797.

     Mrs. Blenkinsop tells me I am in the most natural state, and can
     promise me a safe delivery, but that I must have a little patience.

Finally, that night at twenty minutes after eleven, the child--not the
William talked of for months, but a daughter, afterwards to be Mrs.
Shelley--was born. Godwin was now sitting in the parlor below, waiting
the, as he never doubted, happy end. But shortly after two o'clock he
received the alarming news that the patient was in some danger. He went
immediately and summoned Dr. Poignard, physician to the Westminster
Hospital, who hastened to the assistance of Mrs. Blenkinsop, and by eight
o'clock the next morning the peril was thought safely over. Mary having
expressed a wish to see Dr. Fordyce, who was her friend as well as a
prominent physician, Godwin sent for him, in spite of some objections to
his so doing on the part of Dr. Poignard. Dr. Fordyce was very well
satisfied with her condition, and later, in the afternoon, mentioned as a
proof of the propriety of employing midwives on such occasions, for which
practice he was a strong advocate, that Mrs. Godwin "had had a woman,
and was doing extremely well." For a day or two Godwin was so anxious
that he did not leave the house; but Mary's progress seemed thoroughly
satisfactory, and on Sunday he went with a friend to pay some visits,
going as far even as Kensington, and did not return until dinner-time.
His home-coming was a sad one. Mary had been much worse, and in her
increasing illness had worried because of his long absence. He did not
leave her again, for from this time until her death on the following
Sunday, the physicians could give him but the faintest shadow of a hope.

The week that intervened was long and suffering for the sick woman, and
heart-breaking for the watcher. Every possible effort was made to save
her; and if medical skill and the devotion of friends could have availed,
she must have lived. Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Clarke were in constant
attendance. Mr.--afterwards Sir--Anthony Carlisle, who had of his own
accord already called once or twice, was summoned professionally on
Wednesday evening, September 6, and remained by her side until all was
over. Godwin never left her room except to snatch a few moments of sleep
that he might be better able to attend to her slightest wants. His loving
care during these miserable days could not have been surpassed. Mary, had
she been the nurse, and he the patient, could not have been more tender
and devoted. But his curious want of sentiment, and the eminently
practical bent of his mind, manifested themselves even at this sad and
solemn time. Once when Mary was given an anodyne to quiet her wellnigh
unendurable pain, the relief that followed was so great that she
exclaimed to her husband, "Oh, Godwin, I am in heaven!" But, as Kegan
Paul says, "even at that moment Godwin declined to be entrapped into the
admission that heaven existed." His immediate reply was, "You mean, my
dear, that your physical sensations are somewhat easier."

Mrs. Fenwick and Miss Hayes, two good true friends, nursed her and took
charge of the sick-room. Mr. Fenwick, Mr. Basil Montague, Mr. Marshal,
and Mr. Dyson established themselves in the lower part of the house that
they might be ready and on hand for any emergency. It is in the hour of
trouble that friendship receives its strongest test. Mary's friends, when
it came, were not found wanting.

"Nothing," Godwin says, "could exceed the equanimity, the patience, and
affectionateness of the poor sufferer. I entreated her to recover; I
dwelt with trembling fondness on every favorable circumstance; and, as
far as it was possible in so dreadful a situation, she, by her smiles and
kind speeches, rewarded my affection." After the first night of her
illness she told him that she would have died during its agony had she
not been determined not to leave him. Throughout her sickness she was
considerate of those around her. Her ruling passion was strong in death.
When her attendants recommended her to sleep, she tried to obey, though
her disease made this almost impossible. She was gentle even in her
complaints. Expostulation and contradiction were peculiarly irritating to
her in her then nervous condition, but one night when a servant
heedlessly expostulated with her, all she said was, "Pray, pray do not
let her reason with me!" Religion was not once, to use Godwin's
expression, a torment to her. Her religious views had modified since the
days long past when she had sermonized so earnestly to George Blood. She
had never, however, despite Godwin's atheism, lost her belief in God nor
her reliance upon Him. But, at no time an adherent to mere form, she was
not disturbed in her last moments by a desire to conform to church
ceremonies. Religion was at this crisis, as it had always been, a source
of comfort and not of worry. She had invariably preferred virtue to vice,
and she was not now afraid of reaping the reward of her actions. The
probability of her approaching death did not occur to her until the last
two days, and then she was so enfeebled that she was not harassed by the
thought as she had been at first. On Saturday, the 9th, Godwin, who had
been warned by Mr. Carlisle that her hours were numbered, and who wished
to ascertain if she had any directions to leave, consulted her about the
future of the two children. The physician had particularly charged him
not to startle her, for she was too weak to bear any excitement. He
therefore spoke as if he wished to arrange for the time of her illness
and convalescence. But she understood his real motive. "I know what you
are thinking of," she told him. But she added that she had nothing to
communicate upon the subject. Her faith in him and in his wisdom was
entire. "He is the kindest, best man in the world," were among the very
last words she uttered before she lost consciousness. Her survival from
day to day seemed almost miraculous to the physicians who attended her.
Mr. Carlisle refused, until the very end, to lose all hope. "Perhaps one
in a million of persons in her state might possibly recover," he said.
But his hopes were vain. At six o'clock on Sunday morning, the 10th, he
was obliged to summon Godwin, who had retired for a few hours' sleep, to
his wife's bedside. At twenty minutes before eight the same morning, Mary

A somewhat different version of Mary's last hours and of the immediate
cause of her death is given in some manuscript "Notes and Observations on
the Shelley Memorials," written by Mr. H. W. Reveley, son of the Mrs.
Reveley who was Godwin's great friend. His account is as follows:--

     "When Mrs. Godwin was confined of her daughter, the late Mary
     Shelley, she was very ill; and my mother, then Mrs. Reveley, was
     constantly visiting her until her death, eight days after her
     confinement. I was often there with my mother, and I saw Mrs.
     Godwin the day before her death, when she was considered much
     better and quite out of danger. Her death was occasioned by a
     dreadful fright, in this manner. At the time of her confinement a
     gentleman and lady lodged in the first floor, whether as visitors
     or otherwise I cannot say, but that they were intruders in some way
     I am certain. The husband was continually beating his wife, and at
     last there was a violent contest between them, owing to his
     endeavoring to throw his wife over the balcony into the street. Her
     screams of course attracted a crowd in front of the house. Mrs.
     Godwin heard the lady's shrieks and the shouts of the crowd that a
     man was throwing his wife out of the window, and the next day Mrs.
     Godwin died. What became of that miscreant and his wife I never

There may have been some foundation for this story. An ill-tempered
husband may have had lodgings in the same house; but it is extremely
doubtful that his ill-temper had so fatal an effect on Mary. Godwin
would certainly have recorded the fact had it been true, for his Memoir
gives the minutest details of his wife's illness. The very day on which
Mr. Reveley says Mary was out of danger was that on which Godwin was
asking her for final instructions about her children, so sure were the
physicians that her end was near. Mr. Reveley was very young at the time.
His observations were not written until he was quite an old man. It would
not be unlikely, then, that his memory played him false in this

Mary was thirty-eight years of age, in the full prime of her powers. Her
best work probably remained to be done, for her talents, like her beauty,
were late in maturing. Her style had already greatly improved since she
first began to write. Constant communication with Godwin would no doubt
have developed her intellect, and the calm created by her more happy
circumstances would have lessened her pessimistic tendencies. Moreover,
life, just as she lost it, promised to be brighter than it had ever been
before. Godwin's after career shows that he would not have proved
unworthy of her love. Domestic pleasures were dear to her as intellectual
pursuits. In her own house, surrounded by husband and children, she would
have been not only a great but a happy woman. It is at least a
satisfaction to know that her last year was content and peaceful. Few
have needed happiness more than she did, for to few has it been given to
suffer the hardships that fell to her share.

The very same day, Godwin himself wrote to announce his wife's death to
several of his friends. It was characteristic of the man to be systematic
even in his grief, which was sincere. He recorded in his diary the
details of each day during Mary's illness, and it was not until the last
that he shrank from coldly stating events to him so truly tragic. The
only dashes which occur in his diary follow the date of Sunday, Sept. 10,
1797. Kegan Paul says that his writing to his friends "was probably an
attempt to be stoical, but a real indulgence in the luxury of woe." To
Holcroft, who, he knew, could appreciate his sorrow, he said, "I firmly
believe that there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from
experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least
expectation that I can now ever know happiness again." Mrs. Inchbald was
another to whom he at once sent the melancholy news. "I always thought
you used her ill, but I forgive you," he told her in his note. Now that
Mary was dead he felt the insult that had been shown her even more keenly
than at the time. His words roused all Mrs. Inchbald's ill-feeling, and,
with a singular want of consideration, she sent with her condolences an
elaborate explanation of her own conduct. Two or three more notes passed
between them. Godwin's plain-speaking--he told his correspondent very
clearly what he thought of her--is excusable. But her arguments in
self-justification and her want of respect for the dead are unpardonable.

Basil Montague, Mrs. Fenwick, and Miss Hayes continued their friendly
help, and wrote several of the necessary letters for him. The following
is from Miss Hayes to Mr. Hugh Skeys, the husband of Mary's friend. It is
valuable because written by one who was with her in her last moments:--

     SIR,--Myself and Mrs. Fenwick were the only two female friends
     that were with Mrs. Godwin during her last illness. Mrs. Fenwick
     attended her from the beginning of her confinement with scarcely
     any intermission. I was with her for the four last days of her
     life, and though I have had but little experience in scenes of this
     sort, yet I can confidently affirm that my imagination could never
     have pictured to me a mind so tranquil, under affliction so great.
     She was all kindness and attention, and cheerfully complied with
     everything that was recommended to her by her friends. In many
     instances she employed her mind with more sagacity on the subject
     of her illness than any of the persons about her. Her whole soul
     seemed to dwell with anxious fondness on her friends; and her
     affections, which were at all times more alive than perhaps those
     of any other human being, seemed to gather new disinterestedness
     upon this trying occasion. The attachment and regret of those who
     surrounded her appeared to increase every hour, and if her
     principles are to be judged of by what I saw of her death, I should
     say no principles could be more conducive to calmness and

The rest of the letter is missing.

Mrs. Fenwick was intrusted with the duty of informing the
Wollstonecrafts, through Everina, of Mary's death. Her letter is as
interesting as that of Miss Hayes:--

       Sept. 12, 1797.

     I am a stranger to you, Miss Wollstonecraft, and at present greatly
     enfeebled both in mind and body; but when Mr. Godwin desired that I
     would inform you of the death of his most beloved and most
     excellent wife, I was willing to undertake the task, because it is
     some consolation to render him the slightest service, and because
     my thoughts perpetually dwell upon her virtues and her loss. Mr.
     Godwin himself cannot, upon this occasion, write to you.

     Mrs. Godwin died on Sunday, September 10, about eight in the
     morning. I was with her at the time of her delivery, and with very
     little intermission until the moment of her death. Every skilful
     effort that medical knowledge of the highest class could make was
     exerted to save her. It is not possible to describe the unremitting
     and devoted attentions of her husband. Nor is it easy to give you
     an adequate idea of the affectionate zeal of many of her friends,
     who were on the watch night and day to seize on an opportunity of
     contributing towards her recovery, and to lessen her sufferings.

     No woman was ever more happy in marriage than Mrs. Godwin. Who ever
     endured more anguish than Mr. Godwin endures? Her description of
     him, in the very last moments of her recollection was, "He is the
     kindest, best man in the world."

     I know of no consolations for myself, but in remembering how happy
     she had lately been, and how much she was admired and almost
     idolized by some of the most eminent and best of human beings.

     The children are both well, the infant in particular. It is the
     finest baby I ever saw. Wishing you peace and prosperity, I remain
     your humble servant,


     Mr. Godwin requests you will make Mrs. Bishop acquainted with the
     particulars of this afflicting event. He tells me that Mrs. Godwin
     entertained a sincere and earnest affection for Mrs. Bishop.

The funeral was arranged by Mr. Basil Montague and Mr. Marshal for
Friday, the 15th. All Godwin's and Mary's intimate acquaintances were
invited to be present. Among these was Mr. Tuthil, whose views were
identical with Godwin's. This invitation gave rise to another short
correspondence, unfortunate at such a time. Mr. Tuthil considered it
inconsistent with his principles, if not immoral, to take part in any
religious ceremonies; and Godwin, while he respected his scruples,
disapproved of his coldness, which made such a decision possible. But he
was the only one who refused to show this mark of respect to Mary's
memory. Godwin himself was too exhausted mentally and physically to
appear at the funeral. When Friday morning came he shut himself up in
Marshal's rooms and unburdened his heavy heart by writing to Mr.
Carlisle. At the same hour Mary Wollstonecraft was buried at old Saint
Pancras, the church where but a few short months before she had been
married. A monument was afterwards erected over her willow-shadowed
grave. It bore this inscription:--






Many years later, when Godwin's body lay by her side, the quiet old
churchyard was ruined by the building of the Metropolitan and Midland
Railways. But there were those living who loved their memory too dearly
to allow their graves to be so ruthlessly disturbed. The remains of both
were removed by Sir Percy Shelley to Bournemouth where his mother, Mary
Godwin Shelley, was already laid. "There," Kegan Paul writes, "on a sunny
bank sloping to the west, among the rose-wreathed crosses of many who
have died in more orthodox beliefs, lie those who at least might each of
them have said,--

    'Write me as one who loves his fellow-men.'"

Mary Wollstonecraft's death was followed by exhaustive discussion not
only of her work but of her character. The result was, as Dr. Beloe
affirms, "not very honorable to her fair fame as a woman, whatever it
might be to her reputation as an author." The following passage written
at this time shows the estimation in which she was held by a number of
her contemporaries:--

     "She was a woman of strong intellect and of ungovernable passions.
     To the latter, when once she had given the reins, she seems to have
     yielded on all occasions with little scruple, and as little
     delicacy. She appears in the strongest sense a voluptuary and
     sensualist, but without refinement. We compassionate her errors,
     and respect her talents; but our compassion is lessened by the
     mischievous tendency of her doctrines and example; and our respect
     is certainly not extended or improved by her exclaiming against
     prejudices of some of the most dangerous of which she was herself
     perpetually the victim, by her praises of virtue, the sanctity of
     which she habitually violated, and by her pretences to philosophy,
     whose real mysteries she did not understand, and the dignity of
     which, in various instances, she sullied and disgraced."

It was to silence such base calumnies that Godwin wrote his Memoirs. This
was undoubtedly the wisest way to answer Mary's critics. As he says of
Marguerite in "St. Leon," "The story of her life is the best record of
her virtues. Her defects, if defects she had, drew their pedigree from
rectitude of sentiment and perception, from the most generous
sensibility, from a heart pervaded and leavened with tenderness." That
truth is mighty above all things is shown by this story to have been her
creed. By it she regulated her feelings, her thoughts, and her deeds.
Whether her principles and conduct be applauded or condemned, she must
always be honored for her integrity of motive, her fearlessness of
action, and her faithful devotion to the cause of humanity. Like Heine,
she deserves to have a sword laid upon her grave, for she was a brave
soldier in the battle of freedom for mankind.

University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge.

_Messrs. Roberts Brothers' Publications._

_Famous Women Series._



One Volume. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

     The latest contribution to the "Famous Women Series" gives the life
     of Mrs. Siddons, carefully and appreciatively compiled by Nina H.
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     The story of the early dramatic endeavors of the little Sarah
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     it is with a distinct human interest that her varying progress is
     followed until she gains the summit of popular favor and success.
     The picture of her greatest public triumphs receives tender and
     artistic touches in the view we are given of the idol of brilliant
     and intellectual London sitting down with her husband and father to
     a frugal home supper on retiring from the glare of the

     We think the author shows good judgment in devoting comparatively
     little space to criticism of Mrs. Siddons's dramatic methods, and
     giving special attention to her personal traits and history. Hers
     was an extremely interesting life, remarkable no less for its
     private virtues than for its public triumphs. Her struggle to gain
     the place her genius deserved was heroic in its persistence and
     dignity. Her relations with the authors, wits, and notables of her
     day give occasion for much entertaining and interesting anecdotical
     literature. Herself free from humor, she was herself often the
     occasion of fun in others. The stories of her tragic manner in
     private life are many and ludicrous.... The book abounds in
     anecdotes, bits of criticism, and pictures of the stage and of
     society in a very interesting transitional period.--_Christian

     A fitting addition to this so well and so favorably known series is
     the life of the wonderful actress, Sarah Siddons, by Mrs. Nina
     Kennard. To most of the present generation the great woman is only
     a name, though she lived until 1831; but the present volume, with
     its vivid account of her life, its struggles, triumphs, and closing
     years, will give to such a picture that is most lifelike. A
     particularly pleasant feature of the book is the way in which the
     author quotes so copiously from Mrs. Siddons's correspondence.
     These extracts from letters written to friends, and with no thought
     of their ever appearing in print, give the most spontaneous
     expressions of feeling on the part of the writer, as well as her
     own account of many events of her life. They furnish, therefore,
     better data upon which to base an opinion of her real personality
     and character than anything else could possibly give. The volume is
     interesting from beginning to end, and one rises from its perusal
     with the warmest admiration for Sarah Siddons because of her great
     genius, her real goodness, and her true womanliness, shown in the
     relations of daughter, wife, and mother. Modern actresses, amateur
     or professional, with avowed intentions of "elevating the stage,"
     should study this noble woman's example; for in this direction she
     accomplished more, probably, than any other one person has ever
     done, and at greater odds.--_N. E. Journal of Education._

_Sold by all booksellers. Mailed, post-paid, on receipt of price, by the


_Already published:_

  GEORGE ELIOT. By Mathilde Blind.
  EMILY BRONTË. By Miss Robinson.
  GEORGE SAND. By Miss Thomas.
  MARY LAMB. By Mrs. Gilchrist.
  MARGARET FULLER. By Julia Ward Howe.
  MARIA EDGEWORTH. By Miss Zimmern.
  ELIZABETH FRY. By Mrs. E. R. Pitman.
  HARRIET MARTINEAU. By Mrs. F. Fenwick Miller.
  RACHEL. By Mrs. Nina H. Kennard.
  MADAME ROLAND. By Mathilde Blind.
  SUSANNA WESLEY. By Eliza Clarke.
  MRS. SIDDONS. By Mrs. Nina H. Kennard.
  MADAME DE STAËL. By Bella Duffy.
  HANNAH MORE. By Charlotte M. Yonge.
  ADELAIDE RISTORI. An Autobiography.
  JANE AUSTEN. By Mrs. Charles Malden.
  SAINT THERESA. By Mrs. Bradley Gilman.

{Transcriber's note:

  A few obvious punctuation misprints have been corrected.

  "formed beween them at that time" corrected to
  "formed between them at that time".

  "a new horse is inpected by a racer" corrected to
  "a new horse is inspected by a racer".

  "fond of ingenious subtilties;" no change made.

  "sported with with impunity by the aristocracy" corrected to
  "sported with impunity by the aristocracy".

  "which wooes me to stray abroad" no change made.

  "born March 3, 1756, at Wisbeach," no change made
  (usual spelling is Wisbech).

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