Godwin's draft letter to Mary after her son's death
In this section:
- Shelley and Oxford
- Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
- The Young Shelley
- Shelley and Mary
- Copy of the portrait of Shelley as a boy
- Portrait of Mary Shelley
- Early letter from Shelley to Godwin
- Shelley's and Mary's elopement journal
- Shelley and Mary, History of a Six Weeks’ Tour
- Journal of Mary Shelley's step-sister, Claire Clairmont
- Copy of a letter from Shelley to his first wife, Harriet
- Mary's earliest surviving letter to Shelley
- Letter to Shelley and Mary from Mary's Step-sister Fanny Imlay
- Letter from Godwin to Shelley following Fanny Imlay's suicide
- Shelley's jottings and doodlings
- Harriet Shelley's suicide letter
- Harriet Shelley’s engagement ring
- Harriet Shelley’s scarf holder
- Mary's journal entry on Harriet Shelley's suicide
- Shelley's letter to Mary on Harriet
- Copy of the best-known portrait of Shelley
- Mary's letter to friends on her son's final illness
- Godwin's draft letter to Mary after her son's death
- Portrait of Lord Byron
- Letter from Claire Clairmont to Byron on their daughter Allegra
- Letter from Byron to Shelley on his daughter Allegra
- Letter from Allegra to her father Lord Byron
- Letter from Shelley to Mary denying scandalous rumours
- Shelley's Notebooks
- Shelley’s Last Days
- Mary Shelley in England
- William Godwin & Mary Shelley
- Mary Shelley, Editor
- The Poet's Son & Daughter-in-Law
- The Shelley Sanctum
Credit: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
London, 9 Sept 1819
This is Godwin’s initial draft of a letter he wrote to Mary after William’s death, including deleted words critical of Shelley. On such occasions, Godwin wrote as a philosopher as well as a father, adopting an impersonal tone that, though sincerely meant, can seem brutal. Lady Shelley certainly thought so. ‘It was a hard, cruel letter’, she told her friend Maud Brooke. ‘Mary never got over that child’s death and even spoke of him just before her death. Godwin always thought of himself as an exalted being; he was hard and self-centred, but there was a faint likeness to Mary in his face, and when I notice that I cannot find it quite so hard.’
Sep. 9, 1819.
My dear Mary
Your letter of August 19 is very grievous to me, inasmuch as you represent me as increasing the degree of your uneasiness & depression.
You must however allow me the privilege of a father & a philosopher, in expostulating with you upon this depression. I cannot but consider it as lowering your character in a memorable degree, & putting you quite among the commonalty & mob of your sex, when I had thought I saw in you symptoms, entitling you to be ranked among those spirits that do honour to our nature. Oh, what a falling off is here! How bitterly is so inglorious a change to be deplored!
What is it you want that you have not? You have the husband of your choice, to whom you seem to be unalterably attached, a man of high intellectual endowments,
whatever I & some other persons may think of his morality, & the defects under this last head, if they be not (as you seem to think) imaginary, at least do not operate as towards you. You have all the goods of fortune, all the means of being useful to others, & shining in your proper sphere. But you have lost a child: & all the rest of the world, all that is beautiful, & all that has a claim upon your kindness, is nothing, because a child of three years old is dead!
The human species may be divided into two great classes: those who lean on others for support: & those who are qualified to support. Of these last some have one, some five, & some ten talents: some can support a husband, a child, a small but respectable circle of friends & dependents, & some can support a world, contributing by their energies to advance their whole species one or more degrees in the scale of perfectibility. The former class sit with their arms crossed, a prey to apathy & languor, of no use to any earthly creature, & ready to fall from their stools, if some kind soul, who might compassionate, but who cannot respect them, did not come from moment to moment, & endeavour to set them up again. You were formed by nature to belong to the best of these classes: but you seem to be shrinking away, & voluntarily enrolling yourself among the worst.
Above all things I intreat you, do not put the miserable delusion on yourself, to think there is something fine, & beautiful, & delicate, in giving yourself up, & agreeing to be nothing.
Remember too that, though, at first, your nearest connections may pity you in this state, yet that when they see you fixed in selfishness & ill humour, & regardless of the happiness of every one else, they will finally cease to love you, & scarcely learn to endure you. ...
William Godwin; (bequest, 1836) Mary Shelley, via his widow, Mary Jane Godwin; (bequest, 1851) Sir Percy and Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1899) Shelley Scarlett (later 5th Baron Abinger) and/or Robert Scarlett (later 6th Baron Abinger); (bequest, 1917) Robert Scarlett, 6th Baron Abinger; (bequest, 1927) Hugh Scarlett, 7th Baron Abinger; (bequest, 1943) James Scarlett, 8th Baron Abinger; (bequest, 2002) James Scarlett, 9th Baron Abinger; (purchase, 2004) Bodleian.
Shelley’s Guitar, no. 95.