William Godwin Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

William Godwin was born to a Dissenting minister, the seventh of thirteen children. He was reared according to strict Calvinist principles. Physically disadvantaged and intellectually precocious, Godwin began the first of four trial ministries on graduation from London’s famous Hoxton Academy. The sermons and personality of the aloof and cerebral Godwin invariably disaffected the small rural congregations to which he was assigned.

Furthermore, beginning around 1780, Godwin’s faith in God was eroded by his reading of French philosophers such as Voltaire. Moving to London, Godwin soon involved himself both with the Whig Party and with the radicals. He breakfasted with the noted feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and with Thomas Paine, reading the latter’s The Rights of Man (1791-1792) in manuscript. Paine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the events of the French Revolution all contributed to the thoughts expounded in Godwin’s most famous theoretical work, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793), a book that made its author the best-known radical political philosopher of his day. Godwin’s most famous novel, Caleb Williams, was undertaken as a case study of the principles outlined in this theoretical work. A friend of Godwin, imprisoned in Newgate for sedition in an example of the kind of injustice Godwin was protesting, read the novel in one night. Godwin had the courage to...

(The entire section is 567 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Godwin made dissent the theme of his life. He had an early introduction to dissent, being the seventh of thirteen children in the family of a dissenting minister. Because of the father’s religious views, the children were reared in a strict, Puritanical tradition that stressed predestination and divine retribution. As a boy Godwin was educated at various academies run by and for nonconformists. Trained for the ministry, he entered church work in 1771. Taking up residence in London after his father’s death, he studied the classics, theology, philosophy, and languages at the dissenting academy of Hoxton until his appointment to a parish in Stowmarket. He resigned the position because of a dispute over ordination and...

(The entire section is 699 words.)


The image of the prism might best exemplify the multifaceted mind of William Godwin (1756–1836). Isaac Newton's experiments in optics demonstrated that a beam of light, refracted by a prism, consisted of different types of light moving at different speeds, thus creating the colors that we are equipped to interpret. Born into a century that valued heightened rationality and even required that individual reason and judgment become fully directed toward the goal of perfecting human society, Godwin filtered many of the powerful forces of history, revolution, science, and the arts of his age and rendered a rich personalized account of their effects in articles, pamphlets, books, novels, and other...

(The entire section is 889 words.)