William Godwin (1756-1836), Augustan Age: 18th Century Literature

Godwin was a novelist and philosopher. He believed that reason was sufficient to guide the conduct not only of a man but of the whole society. He was a brave person not with the pen alone but also as a thinker. He influenced a number of better minds including, for a very short period, the poet Coleridge, and for a much longer period, Shelley, who eventually became his son-in-law. His famous work was The Inquiry Concerning Political Justice which appeared in 1793. It set forth the most extreme revolutionary ideas with all the calmness of a mathematical demonstration upon the younger generation. He believed that man was innately good and, under the guidance of reason, capable of living without laws or control. He declared that punishment was as unjust as the accumulation of property. The Prime Minister, William Pitt, thought that the book was too expensive to be unjust. Godwin’s masterpiece was Caleb William which appeared in 1794. It was written to demonstrate the power of injustice accessible to the privileged classes of society.

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