The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family

Excerpt

Most lives follow a pattern of rise and fall. For William Godwin there was not one peak but two. At a time when his achievements had been largely forgotten and he seemed to be far down the road to final decline, the young Percy Bysshe Shelley burst into his life, claimed to be the heir to his ideas, ran off with his daughters, and tied the whole Godwin family inextricably to his own frantic career. This book is not therefore a biography of one man alone, but an account of two generations whose influence on each other was intense. Although for convenience I have called them the Godwins and the Shelleys, Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who took their husbands' names, are of equal importance.

Godwin's first biographer said he wished that more papers had been destroyed, and his successors know how he felt. The materials are vast, and their number continues to grow as scattered documents find their way into libraries. Fortunately a great deal is now available in print. Pollin's Godwin Bibliography of 1967, which lists over three thousand items, is an excellent guide, as is Janet M. Todd's Annotated Bibliography of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1976. Almost every sentence written by Shelley, Mary Shelley, Byron and Coleridge has been edited and printed, although I have been able to add a few items of interest which were previously unknown. The main printed books which I have used are referred to in the Notes.

The prime source for all the lives remains the Abinger archive of manuscripts now in the Bodleian Libary. This consists of Godwin's papers together with those of Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Mary Shelley and others. They passed by inheritance to Sir Percy Florence Shelley and other papers have been bought. Apart from the documents which have been edited for the collections of letters and journals they remain in an unordered state and are only partially catalogued. A microfilm copy was made in 1948 but many of the frames are illegible, and there are documents on the film which are no longer in the collection and vice versa. New portions of the archive are still coming to light including a substantial cache which Lord Abinger permitted me to add in 1982.

Civil servants know that the junior official who writes the first draft . . .

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