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William Godwin (1756-1836)

Shelfmark: Shelley relics 38
Credit: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Godwin's complete diaries are available online.

William Godwin (1756-1836) was born in Wisbech, into a family of religious Dissenters. He trained as a Dissenting minister, but became instead an atheist and philosopher. He earned a living as a writer, producing a series of historical and educational works. His major philosophical work, An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, was published in 1793, and for a while Godwin was the most celebrated philosopher in England. In 1794 he published a successful novel, Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, and Cursory Strictures, a powerful defence of twelve Radicals accused of high treason.

In 1797 Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft. Their daughter Mary was born in August that year, but Mary Wollstonecraft died soon after the birth. Godwin published his controversial memoir of her in 1798. In 1801 Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, who had already had two children, Charles and Jane (later Claire); their own son William was born in 1803. He continued to write books of all kinds, producing histories, essays and novels. With his second wife he ran a publishing house, the Juvenile Library, and produced a series of children’s books, but he was frequently deeply in debt. A measure of financial security only came in 1833, when he was appointed Office Keeper and Yeoman Usher of the Receipt of the Exchequer. He died three years later, aged 80.

Object details

Bodleian Libraries

Broad Street

Oxford

OX1 3BG