16 / CHRONICLESnwould never guess how. It was not messages of gloom, butncheery messages of hope, persistently drummed into himnmonth after month that eventually did him in. He internalizednand took seriously those surefire, upcoming releasendates. After a number had eventually passed, his mindndrifted away, he couldn’t hold his rice down, and he died ofna broken heart.nAfter I returned, I found that there are many examples ofnthat in the literature. Some of you may have read the booknMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, veteran of thenHolocaust and a psychologist and lecturer. He says that thenEnlightened PandernAmong the public nuisances whondisfigured the literary landscape innBritain last century, William Godwinndeserves special recognition.nMore than anyone, he was responsiblenfor popularizing French radicalismnin England during thenI790’s. His classic Political justice isna clearly written and effectively arguedntract on human perfectibility.nEven death, according to Godwin,nwas a temporary inconveniencenarising from our imperfect socialnarrangements. While God did notnexist, men could — with a littleneffort—become as gods.nBut it was not just in politicalntheory that Godwin made his mark,nas readers of Peter Marshall’s newnbiography of the man will discovern{William Godwin; Yale UniversitynPress; New Haven). With one novelnalone, Caleb Williams, Godwin exertedna permanent influence onnfiction, pushing the novel stronglynin the direction of psychologicalninfluence. His later novels, whilenless successful with the public, wereneven more analytical and less dependentnon plot. For those whonagree with Aristotie that the tale isnthe center of great literature, Godwin’snliterary influence was evennmore pernicious than his politicalntheories.nFor a brief period, Godwin succeedednin attracting important disciplesnlike Coleridge. Even later,nwhen Coleridge had almost entirelynrepudiated Godwin’s views, the twonremained friends. Coleridge had hisneyes opened on “the sublime philosopher,nthe aweful legislator” onenREVISIONSnevening in 1794, when he dinednwith the dramatist Holcroft, Godwin,nand Richard Porson, the greatnclassicist. It was Porson who dominatednthe evening. “My God,”nColeridge wrote Southey, “to hearnPorson crush Godwin, Holcroft,netc.—They absolutely tremble beforenhim!” And well they might.nPorson was a real scholar and, in hisnlimited way, a great mind, whilenGodwin, for all his abilities, was anposeur and an egomaniac. Even asna child attending a court session, henwas offended by a judge who removednhis arm from the bench:n”On this action I . . . silently remarked,nif his lordship knew whatnthe lad beside him will perhaps onenday become I am not sure that henwould have removed my elbow.”nWhat the lad was to become was,nin turn, a nonconformist minister,nan atheist and radical ideologue,nthe lover and husband of MarynWollstonecraft, and the biggestncadger in English literary history.nHe was always in debt and alwaysndevising schemes to make himselfnrich. As a businessman he was asnhopeless as Mr. Micawber and asnprone to self-deception as RalphnCramden. Unlike Micawber, however,nGodwin was thoroughly unscrupulousnin preying upon evennchance acquaintances. When thenmarried Shelley ran off with Godwin’sndaughter (and stepdaughter!),nhe acted the public part of thenoutraged parent. Privately he nevernquit dunning Shelley for larger andnlarger sums of money. There arennames for men who live off thenimmoral earnings of women, andnnone of them are very nice. Innnnbig threats to morale in the crucible are not the pessimists,nbut the incurable vocal and persistent ophmists. That beingnso, think how much more damage gratuitous statements ofnpolitical or religious dissent could do to people close to thenwire. It is easy to forget that, in this age of free speech at anyncost.nHowever, it was not forgotten in Hanoi, probably becausenwe were all so close to one wire or another and sondetermined—spontaneously determined, ecstatically determined—tonprevail, to see each other through, with love,ntogether. ccnreading Marshall’s account, thenreader finds himself actually beginningnto sympathize with Shelley,nwho was a scoundrel, but not entirelyna cad.nPeter Marshall has, in fact, writtenna model literary biography. Thenstory of Godwin’s life is well-told,nand he has done a good job ofnintegrating it into the larger issuesnof the time. He is, it is true, far toonsympathetic to the old fraud andnmanages to find excuses for even hisnmost outrageous acts. But the subjectnis worth a sympathetic reading.nBesides, what good is a hostile biography,neven to a man’s enemies? Ansympathetic treatment like Marshall’snis in the long run far morendevastating.nThere is no denying Godwin’snabilities or his influence, but hisnbest gift to the world was, in fact,nhis daughter Mary Shelley. Mary’snFrankenstein, although clumsilynwritten and obviously influenced bynher father’s novels, remains a powerfulninvestigation of the Prometheannspirit of rebellion she had witnessednfirsthand in her father, hernhusband, and her friends. After hernhusband’s death, she grew increasinglynconservative and religious.nThe daughter of Godwin andnWollstonecraft, the wife of Shelley,nshe gave the best epitaph on thenRomantic spirit as an obiter dictumnin a discussion of her children’sneducation. When a friend advised anprogressive school where her sonnwould learn to think for himself,nshe exclaimed, “For heaven’s sake,nlet him learn to think like everyonenelse.”nccn