DescriptionWilliam Godwin Autograph Note Signed. Framed, clipped inscription of William Godwin in dark brown ink, reads "Tracts. Gift of Geo. III Large Quarto No. 60______small 4to No. 596 W. Godwin", measuring 3.75" x 1.875", framed to an overall size of 6" x 4". Note is very good, with a small pinhole at center of bottom edge and at top right. Two faint pencil "X"marks and one brown ink "X" mark are visible on the note, affecting the text and signature to a minimal degree. Accompanying this lot is a fine framed copy of an engraving of William Godwin, Esq., measuring 4" x 5.75", visible through mat, and framed to an overall size of 9" x 11".
The father of philosophical anarchism as well as of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, 1756-1836, was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. The son of a Calvinist minister, Godwin's religious beliefs evolved progressively from Calvinism to what might be called a "vague theism." By 1783, Godwin had abandoned the country and the ministry for London and a literary career of service to his fellow man. In 1793, he published his most important political treatise, An Enquiry Concerning the Principle of Political Justice, a sweeping explanation of the general principles that underlay society. And within a year, Godwin also published Things as They Are, or the Adventures of Caleb Williams, which attacked aristocratic privilege, but also is virtually the first mystery novel. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s.
Following the death of his wife, the pioneering feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft (just days after the birth of Mary Godwin), the remainder of Godwin's career was an anticlimax to the turbulent decade of the 1790s when he produced his most thoughtful and original contributions. His second marriage, to Mary Jane Clairmont in 1801, only served to compound his family obligations, forcing him to write for money. Together, they produced children's primers on biblical and classical history, which he published along with such works as Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare, (which is also included in this auction). The books for children, written using several pseudonyms and printed in the shop he operated from 1805 to 1824, were modestly successful, but the business venture failed due to his mismanagement of financial affairs. His circle of friends narrowed, but included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb. Percy Shelley became his son-in-law as well as benefactor. Despite his many detractors during his later years, Godwin is recognized as a thinker of the first magnitude in politics, educational theory and social thought and exacted considerable influence on British literature and literary culture. From the Betty Bennett Collection.
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