Studies in the Literary Backgrounds of English Radicalism: With Special Reference to the French Revolution

By M. Ray Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
MARY HAYS, DISCIPLE OF WILLIAM GODWIN

MARY HAYS was one of that remarkable coterie of women, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Amelia Alderson, Mrs. Reveley, Mrs. Fenwick, and Mrs. Inchbald, who afforded William Godwin a sort of philosophic seraglio. Little is known of her life: no biographical sketch of her exists. As the information left by others is sparse, we must depend much upon her supposedly autobiographical novel, Memoirs of Emma Courtney. She lived to be eighty-three, but the last forty years of her life are without a record. Soon after the decade of the French Revolution she became enveloped in an obscurity which has never lifted. Once the immediate revolutionary impulse had spent itself, she seems to have written nothing more. But in the revival of the fame of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, to both of whom she was as faithful as their shadows, she perhaps deserves more attention than she has received. In her blind discipleship she innocently reduced many of Godwin's philosophical maxims to absurdities. She thus made herself the laughing-stock of those conservatives whose sympathies were narrowed by mere respectability as well as of certain liberals whose convictions did not give them such reckless courage.

Particularly in her relations with men she carried out the doctrines of reason, sincerity, and the emancipation of woman with a thoroughness that shocked her own sex as well as the men for whose favor she bid. With her,

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