Godwin, William

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Godwin, William

William Godwin, 1756–1836, English author and political philosopher. A minister in his youth, he was, however, plagued by religious doubts and gave up preaching in 1783 for a literary career. His Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) recorded the view that men are ultimately guided by reason and therefore, being rational creatures, could live in harmony without laws and institutions. His views are also reflected in his novels—Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), St. Leon (1799), and Fleetwood (1805). In 1797, Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft, who died the same year after giving birth to a daughter, Mary. He remarried in 1801 and in 1805 established a small, juvenile publishing business. His last years were an unceasing struggle against poverty and debt. Godwin's works strongly influenced his younger contemporaries, particularly Shelley, whose elopement with Mary (1814) drew from Godwin an exhibition of sternness at variance with his earlier views. However, he was later reconciled to their marriage.

See biographies by F. K. Brown (1926) and E. K. Paul (2 vol., 1896; repr. 1970); studies by H. N. Brailsford (2d ed. 1951), D. H. Munro (1953), J. P. Clark (1977), A. E. Rodway, ed. (1977), D. T. Hughes (1980), and M. Philp (1986).

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