Mary Wollstonecraft
by Elizabeth Robins Pennell
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Copyright, 1884, BY ROBERTS BROTHERS.



Comparatively little has been written about the life of MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. The two authorities upon the subject are Godwin and Mr. C. Kegan Paul. In writing the following Biography I have relied chiefly upon the Memoir written by the former, and the Life of Godwin and Prefatory Memoir to the Letters to Imlay of the latter. I have endeavored to supplement the facts recorded in these books by a careful analysis of Mary Wollstonecraft's writings and study of the period in which she lived.

I must here express my thanks to Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, and to Mr. C. Kegan Paul, for the kind assistance they have given me in my work. To the first named of these gentlemen I am indebted for the loan of a manuscript containing some particulars of Mary Wollstonecraft's last illness which have never yet appeared in print, and to Mr. Paul for the gift, as well as the loan, of several important books.

E. R. P. LONDON, August, 1884.






II. FIRST YEARS OF WORK. 1778-1785 30

III. LIFE AS GOVERNESS. 1786-1788 60

IV. LITERARY LIFE. 1788-1791 85

V. LITERARY WORK. 1788-1791 117


VII. VISIT TO PARIS. 1792-1793 171

VIII. LIFE WITH IMLAY. 1793-1794 198

IX. IMLAY'S DESERTION. 1794-1795 218

X. LITERARY WORK. 1793-1796 248

XI. RETROSPECTIVE. 1794-1796 280






Few women have worked so faithfully for the cause of humanity as Mary Wollstonecraft, and few have been the objects of such bitter censure. She devoted herself to the relief of her suffering fellow-beings with the ardor of a Saint Vincent de Paul, and in return she was considered by them a moral scourge of God. Because she had the courage to express opinions new to her generation, and the independence to live according to her own standard of right and wrong, she was denounced as another Messalina. The young were bidden not to read her books, and the more mature warned not to follow her example, the miseries she endured being declared the just retribution of her actions. Indeed, the infamy attached to her name is almost incredible in the present age, when new theories are more patiently criticised, and when purity of motive has been accepted as the vindication of at least one well-known breach of social laws. The malignant attacks made upon her character since her death have been too great to be ignored. They had best be stated here, that the life which follows may serve as their refutation.

As a rule, the notices which were published after she was dead were harsher and more uncompromising than those written during her lifetime. There were happily one or two exceptions. The writer of her obituary notice in the "Monthly Magazine" for September, 1797, speaks of her in terms of unlimited admiration.

"This extraordinary woman," he writes, "no less distinguished by admirable talents and a masculine tone of understanding, than by active humanity, exquisite sensibility, and endearing qualities of heart, commanding the respect and winning the affections of all who were favored with her friendship or confidence, or who were within the sphere of her influence, may justly be considered as a public loss. Quick to feel, and indignant to resist, the iron hand of despotism, whether civil or intellectual, her exertions to awaken in the minds of her oppressed sex a sense of their degradation, and to restore them to the dignity of reason and virtue, were active and incessant; by her impassioned reasoning and glowing eloquence, the fabric of voluptuous prejudice has been shaken to its foundation and totters towards its fall; while her philosophic mind, taking a wider range, perceived and lamented in the defects of civil institutions interwoven in their texture and inseparable from them the causes of those partial evils, destructive to virtue and happiness, which poison social intercourse and deform domestic life." Her eulogist concludes by calling her the "ornament of her sex, the enlightened advocate for freedom, and the benevolent friend of humankind."

It is more than probable, however, that this was written by a personal friend; for a year later the same magazine, in its semi-annual retrospect of British literature, expressed somewhat altered opinions. This time it says: "It is not for us to vindicate Mary Godwin from the charge of multiplied immorality which is brought against her by the candid as well as the censorious, by the sagacious as well as the superstitious observer. Her character in our estimation is far from being entitled to unqualified praise; she had many faults; she had many transcendent virtues. But she is now dead, and we shall

'No farther seek her merits to disclose, Or draw her frailties from the dread abode; There they alike in trembling hope repose, The bosom of her father and her God!'"

The notice in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for October, 1797, the month after her death, is friendly, but there are limitations to its praise. The following is the sentence it passed upon her: "Her manners were gentle, easy, and elegant; her conversation intelligent and amusing, without the least trait of literary pride, or the apparent consciousness of powers above the level of her sex; and, for fondness of understanding and sensibility of heart, she was, perhaps, never equalled. Her practical skill in education was ever superior to her speculations upon that subject; nor is it possible to express the misfortune sustained in that respect by her children. This tribute we readily pay to her character, however adverse we may be to the system she supported in politics and morals, both by her writings and practice."

In 1798 Godwin published his Memoir of Mary, together with her posthumous writings. He no doubt hoped by a clear statement of the principal incidents of her life to moderate the popular feeling against her. But he was the last person to have undertaken the task. Outside of the small circle of friends and sympathizers who really loved him, he was by no means popular. There were some who even seemed to think that the greatest hardship of Mary's life was to have been his wife. Thus Roscoe, after reading the Memoir, expressed the sentiments it aroused in him in the following lines:—

"Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life, As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife; But harder still thy fate in death we own, Thus mourned by Godwin with a heart of stone."

Moreover, Godwin's views about marriage, as set forth in his "Political Justice," were held in such abhorrence that the fact that he approved of Mary's conduct was reason enough for the multitude to disapprove of it. His book, therefore, was not a success as far as Mary's reputation was concerned. Indeed, it increased rather than lessened the asperity of her detractors. It was greeted by the "European Magazine" for April, 1798, almost immediately after its publication, by one of the most scathing denunciations of Mary's character which had yet appeared.

"The lady," the article begins, "whose memoirs are now before us, appears to have possessed good abilities, and originally a good disposition, but, with an overweening conceit of herself, much obstinacy and self-will, and a disposition to run counter to established practices and opinions. Her conduct in the early part of her life was blameless, if not exemplary; but the latter part of it was blemished with actions which must consign her name to posterity (in spite of all palliatives) as one whose example, if followed, would be attended with the most pernicious consequences to society: a female who could brave the opinion of the world in the most delicate point; a philosophical wanton, breaking down the bars designed to restrain licentiousness; and a mother, deserting a helpless offspring disgracefully brought into the world by herself, by an intended act of suicide." Here follows a short sketch of the incidents recorded by Godwin, and then the article concludes: "Such was the catastrophe of a female philosopher of the new order, such the events of her life, and such the apology for her conduct. It will be read with disgust by every female who has any pretensions to delicacy; with detestation by every one attached to the interests of religion and morality; and with indignation by any one who might feel any regard for the unhappy woman, whose frailties should have been buried in oblivion. Licentious as the times are, we trust it will obtain no imitators of the heroine in this country. It may act, however, as a warning to those who fancy themselves at liberty to dispense with the laws of propriety and decency, and who suppose the possession of perverted talents will atone for the well government of society and the happiness of mankind."

This opinion of the "European Magazine" was the one most generally adopted. It was re-echoed almost invariably when Mary Wollstonecraft's name was mentioned in print. A Mrs. West, who, in 1801, published a series of "Letters to a Young Man," full of goodly discourse and moral exhortation, found occasion to warn him against Mary's works, which she did with as much energy as if the latter had been the Scarlet Woman of Babylon in the flesh. "This unfortunate woman," she says in conclusion, "has terribly terminated her guilty career; terribly, I say, because the account of her last moments, though intentionally panegyrical, proves that she died as she lived; and her posthumous writings show that her soul was in the most unfit state to meet her pure and holy judge."

A writer in the "Beauties of England and Wales," though animated by the same spirit, saw no reason to caution his readers against Mary's pernicious influence, because of his certainty that in another generation she would be forgotten. "Few writers have attained a larger share of temporary celebrity," he admits. "This was the triumph of wit and eloquence of style. To the age next succeeding it is probable that her name will be nearly unknown; for the calamities of her life so miserably prove the impropriety of her doctrines that it becomes a point of charity to close the volume treating of the Rights of Women with mingled wonder and pity."

But probably the article which was most influential in perpetuating the ill-repute in which she stood with her contemporaries, is the sketch of her life given in Chalmers's "Biographical Dictionary." The papers and many books of the day soon passed out of sight, but the Dictionary was long used as a standard work of reference. In this particular article every action of Mary's life is construed unfavorably, and her character shamefully vilified. Judging from Godwin's Memoir, it decides that Mary "appears to have been a woman of strong intellect, which might have elevated her to the highest ranks of English female writers, had not her genius run wild for want of cultivation. Her passions were consequently ungovernable, and she accustomed herself to yield to them without scruple, treating female honor and delicacy as vulgar prejudices. She was therefore a voluptuary and sensualist, without that refinement for which she seemed to contend on other subjects. Her history, indeed, forms entirely a warning, and in no part an example. Singular she was, it must be allowed, for it is not easily to be conceived that such another heroine will ever appear, unless in a novel, where a latitude is given to that extravagance of character which she attempted to bring into real life." Beloe, in the "Sexagenarian," borrowed the scurrilous abuse of the "Biographical Dictionary," which was furthermore accepted by almost every history of English literature and encyclopaedia as the correct estimate of Mary's character and teachings. It is, therefore, no wonder that the immorality of her doctrines and unwomanliness of her conduct came to be believed in implicitly by the too credulous public.

That she fully deserved this disapprobation and contempt seemed to many confirmed by the fact that her daughter, Mary Godwin, consented to live with Shelley before their union could be legalized. The independence of mother and daughter excited private as well as public animosity. There is in the British Museum a book containing a collection of drawings, newspaper slips, and written notes, illustrative of the history and topography of the parish of Saint Pancras. As Mary Wollstonecraft was buried in the graveyard of Saint Pancras Church, mention is made of her. A copy of the painting{1} by Opie, which was supposed until very recently to be her portrait, is pasted on one of the pages of this book, and opposite to it is the following note, written on a slip of paper, and dated 1821: "Mary Wollstonecraft, a disgrace to modesty, an eminent instance of a perverted strong mind, the defender of the 'Rights of Women,' but an ill example to them, soon terminated her life of error, and her remains were laid in the cemetery of Saint Pancras, amidst the believers of the papal creed.

{1} It was engraved and published in the "Monthly Mirror," with Mary's name attached to it, during her lifetime. When Mr. Kegan Paul published the "Letters to Imlay," in 1879, there seemed no doubt of its authenticity. But since then it has been proved to be the portrait of the wife of an artist who lived in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

"There is a monument placed over her remains, being a square pillar." (The inscription here follows.) "A willow was planted on each side of the pillar, but, like the character of Mary, they do not flourish. Her unfortunate daughters were reared by their infamous father for prostitution,—one is sold to the wicked poet Shelley, and the other to attend upon her. The former became Mrs. Shelley." The prejudice of the writer of these lines against the subject of them, together with his readiness to accept all the ill spoken of her, is at once shown in his reference to Claire, who was the daughter of the second Mrs. Godwin by her first husband, and hence no relation whatever to Mrs. Shelley. This mistake proves that he relied overmuch upon current gossip.

During all these years Mary was not entirely without friends, but their number was small. In 1803 an anonymous admirer published a defence of her character and conduct, "founded on principles of nature and reason as applied to the peculiar circumstances of her case," in a series of nine letters to a lady. But his defence is less satisfactory to his readers than it is to be presumed it was to himself. In it he carefully repeats those details of Godwin's Memoir which were most severely criticised, and to some of them gives a new and scarcely more favorable construction. He candidly admits that he does not pretend to vindicate the whole of her conduct. He merely wishes to apologize for it by demonstrating the motives from which she acted. But to accomplish this he evolves his arguments chiefly from his inner consciousness. Had he appealed more directly to her writings, and thought less of showing his own ingenuity in reasoning, he would have written to better purpose.

Southey was always enthusiastic in his admiration. His letters are full of her praises. "We are going to dine on Wednesday next with Mary Wollstonecraft, of all the literary characters the one I most admire," he wrote to Thomas Southey, on April 28, 1797. And a year or two after her death, he declared in a letter to Miss Barker, "I never praised living being yet, except Mary Wollstonecraft." He made at least one public profession of his esteem in these lines, prefixed to his "Triumph of Woman:"—

"The lily cheek, the 'purple light of love,' The liquid lustre of the melting eye, Mary! of these the Poet sung, for these Did Woman triumph ... turn not thou away Contemptuous from the theme. No Maid of Arc Had, in those ages, for her country's cause Wielded the sword of freedom; no Roland Had borne the palm of female fortitude; No Conde with self-sacrificing zeal Had glorified again the Avenger's name, As erst when Caesar perished; haply too Some strains may hence be drawn, befitting me To offer, nor unworthy thy regard."

Shelley too offered her the tribute of his praise in verse. In the dedication of the "Revolt of Islam," addressed to his wife, he thus alludes to the latter's famous mother:—

"They say that thou wert lovely from thy birth, Of glorious parents, thou aspiring child. I wonder not; for one then left the earth Whose life was like a setting planet mild Which clothed thee in the radiance undefiled Of its departing glory."

But the mere admiration of Southey and Shelley had little weight against popular prejudice. Year by year Mary's books, like so many other literary productions, were less frequently read, and the prediction that in another generation her name would be unknown bade fair to be fulfilled. But the latest of her admirers, Mr. Kegan Paul, has, by his zealous efforts in her behalf, succeeded in vindicating her character and reviving interest in her writings. By his careful history of her life, and noble words in her defence, he has re-established her reputation. As he says himself, "Only eighty years after her death has any serious attempt been made to set her right in the eyes of those who will choose to see her as she was." His attempt has been successful. No one after reading her sad story as he tells it in his Life of Godwin, can doubt her moral uprightness. His statement of her case attracted the attention it deserved. Two years after it appeared, Miss Mathilde Blind published, in the "New Quarterly Review," a paper containing a briefer sketch of the incidents he recorded, and expressing an honest recognition of this great but much-maligned woman.

Thus, at this late day, the attacks of her enemies are being defeated. The critic who declared the condition of the trees planted near her grave to be symbolical of her fate, were he living now, would be forced to change the conclusions he drew from his comparison. In that part of Saint Pancras Churchyard which lies between the two railroad bridges, and which has not been included in the restored garden, but remains a dreary waste, fenced about with broken gravestones, the one fresh green spot is the corner occupied by the monument{1} erected to the memory of Mary Wollstonecraft, and separated from the open space by an iron railing. There is no sign of withering willows in this enclosure. Its trees are of goodly growth and fair promise. And, like them, her character now flourishes, for justice is at last being done to her.

{1} Her body has been removed to Bournemouth.




Mary Wollstonecraft was born on the 27th of April, 1759, but whether in London or in Epping Forest, where she spent the first five years of her life, is not quite certain. There is no history of her ancestors to show from whom she inherited the intellectual greatness which distinguished her, but which characterized neither of her parents. Her paternal grandfather was a manufacturer in Spitalfields, of whom little is known, except that he was of Irish extraction and that he himself was respectable and prosperous. To his son, Edward John, Mary's father, he left a fortune of ten thousand pounds, no inconsiderable sum in those days for a man of his social position. Her mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Dixon, of Ballyshannon, Ireland, who belonged to an eminently good family. Mary was the second of six children. The eldest, Edward, who was more successful in his worldly affairs than the others, and James, who went to sea to seek his fortunes, both passed to a great extent out of her life. But her two sisters, Eliza and Everina, and her youngest brother, Charles, were so dependent upon her for assistance in their many troubles that their career is intimately associated with hers.

With her very first years Mary Wollstonecraft began a bitter training in the school of experience, which was to no small degree instrumental in developing her character and forming her philosophy. There are few details of her childhood, and no anecdotes indicating a precocious genius. But enough is known of her early life to make us understand what were the principal influences to which she was exposed. Her strength sprang from the very uncongeniality of her home and her successful struggles against the poverty and vice which surrounded her. Her father was a selfish, hot-tempered despot, whose natural bad qualities were aggravated by his dissipated habits. His chief characteristic was his instability. He could persevere in nothing. Apparently brought up to no special profession, he was by turns a gentleman of leisure, a farmer, a man of business. It seems to have been sufficient for him to settle in any one place to almost immediately wish to depart from it. The history of the first fifteen or twenty years of his married life is that of one long series of migrations. The discomforts and petty miseries unavoidable to travellers with large families in pre-railroad days necessarily increased his irascibility. The inevitable consequence of these many changes was loss of money and still greater loss of temper. That his financial experiments proved to be failures, is certain from the abject poverty of his later years. That they were bad for him morally, is shown in the fact that his children, when grown up, found it impossible to live under the same roof with him. His indifference in one particular to their wishes and welfare led in the end to disregard of them in all matters.

It is more than probable that Mary, in her "Wrongs of Woman," drew largely from her own experience for the characters therein represented, and we shall not err in identifying the father she describes in this novel with Mr. Wollstonecraft himself. "His orders," she writes, "were not to be disputed; and the whole house was expected to fly at the word of command.... He was to be instantaneously obeyed, especially by my mother, whom he very benevolently married for love; but took care to remind her of the obligation when she dared in the slightest instance to question his absolute authority." He was, in a word, an egotist of the worst description, who found no brutality too low once his anger was aroused, and no amount of despotism too odious when the rights and comforts of others interfered with his own desires. When contradicted or thwarted his rage was ungovernable, and he used personal violence not only to his dogs and children, but even to his wife. Drink and unrestrained selfishness had utterly degraded him. Such was Mary's father.

Mrs. Wollstonecraft was her husband's most abject slave, but was in turn somewhat of a tyrant herself. She approved of stern discipline for the young. She was too indolent to give much attention to the education of her children, and devoted what little energy she possessed to enforcing their unquestioning obedience even in trifles, and to making them as afraid of her displeasure as they were of their father's anger. "It is perhaps difficult to give you an idea of the petty cares which obscured the morning of my life," Mary declares through her heroine,—"continual restraint in the most trivial matters, unconditional submission to orders, which as a mere child I soon discovered to be unreasonable, because inconsistent and contradictory. Thus are we destined to experience a mixture of bitterness with the recollection of our most innocent enjoyment." Edward, as the mother's favorite, escaped her severity; but it fell upon Mary with double force, and was with her carried out with a thoroughness that laid its shortcomings bare, and consequently forced Mrs. Wollstonecraft to modify her treatment of her younger children. This concession on her part shows that she must have had their well-being at heart, even when her policy in their regard was most misguided, and that her unkindness was not, like her husband's cruelty, born of caprice. But it was sad for Mary that her mother did not discover her mistake sooner.

When Mary was five years old, and before she had had time to form any strong impressions of her earliest home, her father moved to another part of Epping Forest near the Chelmsford Road. Then, at the end of a year, he carried his family to Barking in Essex, where he established them in a comfortable home, a little way out of the town. Many of the London markets were then supplied from the farms around Barking, so that the chance for his success here was promising.

This place was the scene of Mary's principal childish recollections and associations. Natural surroundings were with her of much more importance than they usually are to the very young, because she depended upon them for her pleasures. She cared nothing for dolls and the ordinary amusements of girls. Having received few caresses and little tender nursing, she did not know how to play the part of mother. Her recreation led her out of doors with her brothers. That she lived much in the open air and became thoroughly acquainted with the town and the neighborhood, seems certain from the eagerness with which she visited it years afterwards with Godwin. This was in 1796, and Mary with enthusiasm sought out the old house in which she had lived. It was unoccupied, and the garden around it was a wild and tangled mass. Then she went through the town itself; to the market-place, which had perhaps been the Mecca of frequent pilgrimages in the old times; to the wharves, the bustle and excitement of which had held her spellbound many a long summer afternoon; and finally from one street to another, each the scene of well-remembered rambles and adventures. Time can soften sharp and rugged lines and lighten deep shadows, and the pleasant reminiscences of Barking days made her overlook bitterer memories.

That there were many of the latter, cannot be doubted. Only too often the victim of her father's cruel fury, and at all times a sufferer because of her mother's theories, she had little chance for happiness during her childhood. She was, like Carlyle's hero of "Sartor Resartus," one of those children whose sad fate it is to weep "in the playtime of the others." Not even to the David Copperfields and Paul Dombeys of fiction has there fallen a lot so hard to bear and so sad to record, as that of the little Mary Wollstonecraft. She was then the most deserving object of that pity which later, as a woman, she was always ready to bestow upon others. Her affections were unusually warm and deep, but they could find no outlet. She met, on the one hand, indifference and sternness; on the other, injustice and ill-usage. It is when reading the story of her after-life, and learning from it how, despite her masculine intellect, she possessed a heart truly feminine, that we fully appreciate the barrenness of her early years. She was one of those who, to use her own words, "cannot live without loving, as poets love." At the strongest period of her strong womanhood she felt, as she so touchingly confesses in her appeals to Imlay, the need of some one to lean upon,—some one to give her the love and sympathy, which were to her what light and heat are to flowers. It can therefore easily be imagined how much greater was the necessity, and consequently the craving caused by its non-gratification, when she was nothing but a child. Overflowing with tenderness, she dared not lavish it on the mother who should have been so ready to receive it. Instead of the confidence which should exist between mother and daughter, there was in their case nothing but cold formality. Nor was there for her much compensation in the occasional caresses of her father. Sensitive to a fault, she could not forgive his blows and unkindness so quickly as to be able to enjoy his smiles and favors. Moreover, she had little chance of finding, without, the devotion and gentle care which were denied to her within her own family. Mr. Wollstonecraft remained so short a time in each locality in which he made his home, that his wife saw but little of her relations and old acquaintances; while no sooner had his children made new friends, than they were separated from them.

To whatever town they went, the Wollstonecrafts seem to have given signs of gentility and good social standing, which won for them, if not many, at least respectable friends. At Barking an intimacy sprang up between them and the family of Mr. Bamber Gascoyne, Member of Parliament. But Mary was too young to profit by this friendship. It was most ruthlessly interrupted three years later, when, in 1768, the restless head of the house, whose industry in Barking had not equalled the enterprise which brought him there, took his departure for Beverly, in Yorkshire.

This was the most complete change that he had as yet made. Heretofore his wanderings had been confined to Essex. But he either found in his new home more promising occupation and congenial companionship than he had hitherto, or else there was a short respite to his feverish restlessness, for he continued in it for six years. It was here Mary received almost all the education that was ever given her by regular schooling. Beverly was nothing but a small market-town, though she in her youthful enthusiasm thought it large and handsome, and its inhabitants brilliant and elegant, and was much disappointed, when she passed through it many years afterwards, on her way to Norway, to see how far the reality fell short of her youthful idealizations. Its schools could not have been of a very high order, and we do not need Godwin's assurance to know that Mary owed little of her subsequent culture to them. But her education may be said to have really begun in 1775, when her father, tired of farming and tempted by commercial hopes, left Beverly for Hoxton, near London.

Mary was at this time in her sixteenth year. The effect of her home life, under which most children would have succumbed, had been to develop her character at an earlier age than is usual with women. In spite of the tyranny and caprice of her parents, and, indeed, perhaps because of them, she had soon asserted her individuality and superiority. When she had recognized the mistaken motives of her mother and the weakness of her father, she had been forced to rely upon her own judgment and self-command. It is a wonderful proof of her fine instincts that, though she must have known her strength, she did not rebel, and that her keen insight into the injustice of some actions did not prevent her realizing the justice of others. Her mind seems to have been from the beginning too evenly balanced for any such misconceptions. When reprimanded, she deservedly found in the reprimand, as she once told Godwin, the one means by which she became reconciled to herself for the fault which had called it forth. As she matured, her immediate relations could not but yield to the influence which she exercised over all with whom she was brought into close contact. If there be such a thing as animal magnetism, she possessed it in perfection. Her personal attractions commanded love, and her great powers of sympathy drew people, without their knowing why, to lean upon her for moral support. In the end she became an authority in her family. Mrs. Wollstonecraft was in time compelled to bestow upon her the affection which she had first withheld. It was the ugly duckling after all who proved to be the swan of the flock. Mr. Wollstonecraft learned to hold his eldest daughter in awe, and his wrath sometimes diminished in her presence.

Pity was always Mary's ruling passion. Feeling deeply the family sorrows, she was quick to forget herself in her efforts to lighten them when this privilege was allowed to her. There were opportunities enough for self-sacrifice. With every year Mr. Wollstonecraft squandered more money, and grew idler and more dissipated. Home became unbearable, the wife's burden heavier. Mary, emancipated from the restraints of childhood, no longer remained a silent spectator of her father's fits of passion. When her mother was the victim of his violence, she interposed boldly between them, determined that if his blows fell upon any one, it should be upon herself. There were occasions when she so feared the results of his drunken rage that she would not even go to bed at night, but, throwing herself upon the floor outside her room, would wait there, on the alert, to meet whatever horrors darkness might bring forth. Could there be a picture more tragical than this of the young girl, a weary woman before her time, protecting the mother who should have protected her, fighting against the vices of a father who should have shielded her from knowledge of them! Already before she had left her home there must have come into her eyes that strangely sad expression, which Kegan Paul, in speaking of her portrait by Opie, says reminds him of nothing unless it be of the agonized sorrow in the face of Guido's Beatrice Cenci. No one can wonder that she doubted if marriage can be the highest possible relationship between the sexes, when it is remembered that for years she had constantly before her, proofs of the power man possesses, by sheer physical strength and simple brutality, to destroy the happiness of an entire household.

It was fortunate for her that she spent these wretched years in or very near the country. She could wear off the effects of the stifling home atmosphere by races over neighboring heaths, or by walks through lanes and woods. Constant exercise in the open air is the best of stimulants. It helped her to escape the many ills which childish flesh is heir to; it lessened the morbid tendency of her nature; and it developed an energy of character which proved her greatest safeguard against her sensitive and excitable temperament. Besides this, she seems to have taken real delight in her out-of-doors life. If at a later age she loved to sit in solitude and listen to the singing of a robin and the falling of the leaves, she must, as a child, have possessed much of that imaginative power which transforms all nature into fairyland. If, in the bitter consciousness that she was a betrayed and much-sinned-against woman, she could still find moments of exquisite pleasure in wandering through woods and over rocks, such haunts must have been as dear to her when she sought in them escape from her young misery. It is probable that she refers to herself when she makes her heroine, Maria, say, "An enthusiastic fondness for the varying charms of nature is the first sentiment I recollect."

Mary's existence up to 1775 had been, save when disturbed by family storms, quiet, lonely, and uneventful. As yet no special incident had occurred in it, nor had she been awakened to intellectual activity. But in Hoxton she contracted a friendship which, though it was with a girl of her own age, was always esteemed by her as the chief and leading event in her existence. This it was which first aroused her love of study and of independence, and opened a channel for the outpouring of her too-long suppressed affections. Her love for Fanny Blood was the spark which kindled the latent fire of her genius. Her arrival in Hoxton, therefore, marks the first important era in her life.

She owed this new pleasure to Mr. Clare, a clergyman, and his wife, who lived next to the Wollstonecrafts in Hoxton. The acquaintanceship formed with their neighbors ripened in Mary's case into intimacy. Mr. Clare was deformed and delicate, and, because of his great physical weakness, led the existence of a hermit. He rarely, if ever, went out, and his habits were so essentially sedentary that a pair of shoes lasted him for fourteen years. It is hardly necessary to add that he was eccentric. But he was a man of a certain amount of culture. He had read largely, his opportunity for so doing being great. He was attracted by Mary, whom he soon discovered to be no ordinary girl, and he interested himself in forming and training her mind. She, in return, liked him. His deformity alone would have appealed to her, but she found him a congenial companion, and, as she proved herself a willing pupil, he was glad to have her much with him. She was a friend of Mrs. Clare as well; indeed, the latter remained true to her through later storms which wrecked many other less sincere friendships. Mary sometimes spent days and even weeks in the house of these good people; and it was on one of these occasions, probably, that Mrs. Clare took her to Newington Butts, then a village at the extreme southern end of London, and there introduced her to Frances Blood.

The first meeting between them, Godwin says, "bore a resemblance to the first interview of Werter with Charlotte." The Bloods lived in a small, but scrupulously well-kept house, and when its door was first opened for Mary, Fanny, a bright-looking girl about her own age, was busy, like another Lotte, in superintending the meal of her younger brothers and sisters. It was a scene well calculated to excite Mary's interest. She, better than any one else, could understand its full worth. It revealed to her at a glance the skeleton in the family closet,—the inefficiency of the parents to care for the children whom they had brought into the world, and the poverty which prevented their hiring others to do their work for them. And at the same time it showed her the noble unselfishness of the daughter, who not only took upon herself the burden so easily shifted by the parents, but who accepted her fate cheerfully. Cheerfulness is a virtue but too lightly prized. When maintained in the face of difficulties and unhappiness it becomes the finest heroism. The recognition of this heroic side of Fanny's nature commanded the instant admiration and respect of her visitor. Mary then and there vowed in her heart eternal friendship for her new acquaintance, and the vow was never broken.

Balzac, in his "Cousine Bette," says that there is no stronger passion than the love of one woman for another. Mary Wollstonecraft's affection for Frances Blood is a striking illustration of the truth of his statement. It was strong as that of a Sappho for an Erinna; tender and constant as that of a mother for her child. From the moment they met until they were separated by poor Fanny's untimely death, Mary never wavered in her devotion and its active expression, nor could the vicissitudes and joys of her later life destroy her loving loyalty to the memory of her first and dearest friend. "When a warm heart has strong impressions," she wrote in a letter long years afterwards, "they are not to be effaced. Emotions become sentiments; and the imagination renders even transient sensations permanent, by fondly retracing them. I cannot without a thrill of delight recollect views I have seen, which are not to be forgotten, nor looks I have felt in every nerve, which I shall never more meet. The grave has closed over a dear friend, the friend of my youth; still she is present with me, and I hear her soft voice warbling as I stray over the heath."

There was much to draw the two friends together. They had many miseries and many tastes and interests in common. Fanny's parents were poor, and her father, like Mr. Wollstonecraft, was idle and dissipated. There were young children to be reared, and an incompetent mother to do it. Fanny was only two years older than Mary, but was, at that time, far more advanced mentally. Her education had been more complete. She was in a small way both musician and artist, was fond of reading, and had even tried her powers at writing. But her drawing had proved her most profitable accomplishment, and by it she supported her entire family. Mary as yet had perfected herself in nothing, and was helpless where money-making was concerned. Her true intellectual education had but just begun under Mr. Clare's direction. She had previously read voluminously, but, having done so for mere immediate gratification, had derived but little profit therefrom. As she lived in Hoxton, and Fanny in Newington Butts, they could not see each other very often, and so in the intervals between their visits they corresponded. Mary found that her letters were far inferior to those of her friend. She could not spell so well; she had none of Fanny's ease in shaping her thoughts into words. Her pride was hurt and her ambition stirred. She determined to make herself at least Fanny's intellectual equal. It was humiliating to know herself powerless to improve her own condition, when her friend was already earning an income large enough not only to meet her own wants but those of others depending upon her. To prepare herself for a like struggle with the world, a struggle which in all likelihood she would be obliged to make single-handed, she studied earnestly. Books acquired new value in her eyes. She read no longer for passing amusement, but to strengthen and cultivate her mind for future work. It cannot be doubted that under any circumstances she would, in the course of a few years, have become conscious of her power and the necessity to exercise it. But to Fanny Blood belongs the honor of having given the first incentive to her intellectual energy. This brave, heavily burdened young English girl, accepting toils and tribulations with stout heart, would, with many another silent heroine or hero, have been forgotten, had it not been for the stimulus her love and example were to an even stronger sister-sufferer. The larger field of interests thus opened for Mary was like the bright dawn after a long and dark night. For the first time she was happy.

There was therefore much in her life at Hoxton to relieve the gloomy influence of the family troubles. Work for a definite end is in itself a great joy. Many pleasant hours were spent with the Clares, and occasional gala-days with Fanny. These last two pleasures, however, were short-lived. The inexorable family tyrant, her father, grew tired of commerce, as indeed he did of everything, and in the spring of 1776 he abandoned it for agriculture, this time settling in Pembroke, Wales, where he owned some little property. With a heavy heart Mary bade farewell to her new friends.

It is well worth recording that in 1775, while Mary Wollstonecraft was living in Hoxton, William Godwin was a student at the Dissenting College in that town. Godwin, in his short Memoir of his wife, pauses to speculate as to what would have been the result had they then met and loved. In his characteristic philosophical way he asks, "Which would have been predominant,—the disadvantages of obscurity and the pressure of a family, or the gratifications and improvement that might have flowed from their intercourse?" But the vital question is: Would an acquaintanceship formed between them at that time have ever become more than mere friendship? She was then a wild, untrained girl, and had not reduced her contempt for established institutions to fixed principles. Godwin, the son of a Dissenting clergyman, was studying to be one himself, and his opinions of the rights of man were still unformed. Neither had developed the ideas and doctrines which afterwards were the bond of sympathy between them. One thing is certain: while they might have benefited had they married twenty years earlier than they did, the world would have lost. Godwin, under the influence of a wife's tender love, would never have became a cold, systematic philosopher. And Mary, had she found a haven from her misery so soon, would not have felt as strongly about the wrongs of women. Whatever her world's work under those circumstances might have been, she would not have become the champion of her sex.

Of external incidents the year in Wales was barren. The only one on record is the intimacy which sprang up between the Wollstonecrafts and the Allens. Two daughters of this family afterwards married sons of the famous potter, Wedgwood, and the friendship then begun lasted for life. To Mary herself, however, this year was full and fertile. It was devoted to study and work. Hers was the only true genius,—the genius for industry. She never relaxed in the task she had set for herself, and her progress was rapid. The signs she soon manifested of her mental power added to the respect with which her family now treated her. Realizing that the assistance she could give by remaining at home was but little compared to that which might result from her leaving it for some definite employment, she seems at this period to have announced her intention of seeking her fortunes abroad. But Mrs. Wollstonecraft looked upon the presence of her daughter as a strong bulwark of defence against the brutal attacks of her husband, and was loath to lose it. Mary yielded to her entreaties to wait a little longer; but her sympathy and tender pity for human suffering fortunately never destroyed her common sense. She knew that the day must come when on her own individual exertions would depend not only her own but a large share of her sisters' and brothers' maintenance, and, in consenting to remain at home, she exacted certain conditions. She insisted upon being allowed freedom in the regulation of her actions. She demanded that she should have a room for her exclusive property, and that, when engaged in study, she should not be interrupted. She would attend to certain domestic duties, and after they were over, her time must be her own. It was little to ask. All she wanted was the liberty to make herself independent of the paternal care which girls of eighteen, as a rule, claim as their right. It was granted her.

At the end of another year, the demon of restlessness again attacked Mr. Wollstonecraft. Wales proved less attractive than it had appeared at a distance. Orders were given to repack the family goods and chattels, and to set out upon new wanderings. On this occasion, Mary interfered with a strong hand. Since a change was to be made, it might as well be turned to her advantage. She had, without a word, allowed herself to be carried to Wales away from the one person she really loved, and she now knew the sacrifice had been useless. It was clear to her that one place was no better for her father than another; therefore he should go where it pleased her. It was better that one member of the family should be content, than that all should be equally miserable. She prevailed upon him to choose Walworth as his next resting-place. Here she would be near Fanny, and life would again hold some brightness for her.

It was at Walworth that she took the first step in what was fated to be a long life of independence and work. The conditions which she had made with her family seem to have been here neglected, and study at home became more and more impossible. She was further stimulated to action by the personal influence of her energetic friend, by the fact that the younger children were growing up to receive their share of the family sorrow and disgrace, and by her own great dread of poverty. "How writers professing to be friends to freedom and the improvement of morals can assert that poverty is no evil, I cannot imagine!" she exclaims in the "Wrongs of Woman." She cared nothing for the luxuries and the ease and idleness which wealth gives, but she prized above everything the time and opportunity for self-culture of which the poor, in their struggle for existence, are deprived. The Wollstonecraft fortunes were at low ebb. Her share in them, should she remain at home, would be drudgery and slavery, which would grow greater with every year. Her one hope for the future depended upon her profitable use of the present. The sooner she earned money for herself, the sooner would she be able to free her brothers and sisters from the yoke whose weight she knew full well because of her own eagerness to throw it off. Unselfish as her father was selfish, she thought quite as much of their welfare as of her own. Therefore when, at the age of nineteen, a situation as lady's companion was offered to her, neither tears nor entreaties could alter her resolution to accept it. She entered at once upon her new duties, and with them her career as woman may be said to have begun.




Mary Wollstonecraft did not become famous at once. She began her career as humbly as many a less gifted woman. Like the heroes of old, she had tasks allotted her before she could attain the goal of her ambition. And Heracles in his twelve labors, Jason in search of the Golden Fleece, Sigurd in pursuit of the treasure, did not have greater hardships to endure or dangers to overcome than she had before she won for herself independence and fame.

It is difficult for a young man without money, influential friends, or professional education to make his way in the world. With a woman placed in similar circumstances the difficulty is increased a hundred-fold. We of to-day, when government and other clerkships are open to women, cannot quite realize their helplessness a few generations back. In Mary Wollstonecraft's time those whose birth and training had unfitted them for the more menial occupations—who could neither bake nor scrub—had but two resources. They must either become governesses or ladies' companions. In neither case was their position enviable. They ranked as little better than upper servants. Mary's first appearance on the world-stage, therefore, was not brilliant.

The lady with whom she went to live was a Mrs. Dawson, a widow who had but one child, a grown-up son. Her residence was in Bath. Mary must then have given at least signs of the beauty which did not reach its full development until many years later, her sorrows had not entirely destroyed her natural gayety, and she was only nineteen years old. The mission in Bath in those days of young girls of her age was to dance and to flirt, to lose their hearts and to find husbands, to gossip, to listen to the music, to show themselves in the Squares and Circus and on the Parades, or, sometimes, when they were seriously inclined, to drink the waters. Mary's was to cater to the caprices of a cross-grained, peevish woman. There was little sunshine in the morning of her life. She was destined always to see the darkest side of human nature. Mrs. Dawson's temper was bad, and her companions, of whom there seem to have been many, had hitherto fled before its outbreaks, as the leaves wither and fall at the first breath of winter. Mary's home-schooling was now turned to good account. Mrs. Dawson's rage could not, at its worst, equal her father's drunken violence; and long experience of the latter prepared her to bear the former with apparent, if not real, stoicism. We have no particulars of her life as companion nor knowledge of the exact nature of her duties. But of one thing we are certain, the fulfilment of them cost her many a heartache. Those who know her only as the vindicator of the Rights of Women and the defiant rebel against social laws, may think her case calls for little sympathy. But the truth is, there have been few women so dependent for happiness upon human love, so eager for the support of their fellow-beings, and so keenly alive to neglects and slights. In Bath she was separated from her friends, she was alone in her struggle, and she held a position which did not always command respect. However, her indomitable will and unflagging energy availed her to such good purpose that she continued with Mrs. Dawson for two years, doubtless to the surprise of the latter, accustomed as she was to easily frightened and hastily retreating companions. Her departure then was due, not to moral cowardice or exhaustion, but to a summons from home.

Mrs. Wollstonecraft's health had begun to fail. Her life had been a hard one, and the drains upon her constitution many. She was the mother of a large family, and had had her full share of the by no means insignificant pains and cares of maternity. In addition to these she had had to contend against poverty, that evil which, says the Talmud, is worse than fifty plagues, and against the vagaries of a good-for-nothing drunken husband. Once she fell beneath her burden, she could not rise with it again. She had no strength left to withstand her illness. Eliza and Everina were both at home to take care of her, but she could not rest without the eldest daughter, upon whom experience had taught her to rely implicitly. She sent for Mary, and the latter hastened at once to her mother's side. Her own hopes and ambitions, her chances and prospects, all were forgotten in her desire to do what she could for the poor patient. Fierce and fearless as an inspired Joan of Arc, when fighting in the cause of justice, she was tender and gentle as a sister of charity when tending the sick. She waited upon her mother with untiring care. Mrs. Wollstonecraft's illness was long and lingering, though it declared itself at an early stage to be hopeless. In her pleasure at her daughter's return she received her services with grateful thanks. But, as she grew worse, she became more accustomed to the presence of her nurse, and exacted as a right that which she had first accepted as a favor. She would allow no one else to attend to her, and day and night Mary was with her.

Finally the end came. Mrs. Wollstonecraft died, happy to be released from a world which had given her nothing but unkindness and sorrow. Her parting words were: "A little patience, and all will be over!" It was not difficult for the dying woman, so soon to have eternity to rest in, to bear quietly time's last agony. But for the weary, heart-sick young girl, before whom there stretched a vista of long years of toil, the lesson of patience was less easy to learn. Mary never forgot these words, nor did she heed their bitter sarcasm. Often and often, in her after trials, they returned to her, carrying with them peace and comfort.

This event occurred in 1780. The family were then living in Enfield, which place had succeeded Walworth in their periodical migrations. After her mother's death Mary, tired out from constant nursing, want of sleep, and anxiety of mind, became ill. She sorely needed quiet and an interval from work. But the necessity to depart from her father's house was imperative. He had fallen so low that his daughters were forced to leave him. The difficulty was to find immediate means to meet the emergency. A return to Mrs. Dawson does not seem to have suggested itself as a possibility. Mary's great ambition was to become a teacher and to establish a school. But this could not be easily or at once accomplished. She must have time to prepare herself for the venture, to make friends, and to give proof of her ability to teach. Fortunately, at this juncture Fanny Blood proved a true friend, and offered her at least a temporary home at Walham Green.

Fanny was still gaining a small income from her drawings, to which Mrs. Blood added whatever she could make by her needle. Mary was not one to fare upon another's bread. Too proud to become an additional charge to these two hard-working women, she helped the latter with her sewing and so contributed her share to the family means. It was not a congenial occupation. But to her any work was preferable to waiting, Micawber-like, for something better to turn up. Though she was happy because she was with her friend, her life here was wellnigh as tragic as it had been in her father's house. The family sorrows were great and many. Mr. Blood was a ne'er-do-weel and a drunkard. Caroline, one of the daughters, had then probably begun her rapid descent down-hill, moved thereto, poor girl, by the relief which vice alone gave to the poverty and gloom of her home. George, the brother, with whom Mary afterwards corresponded for so many years, was unhappy because of his unrequited love for Everina Wollstonecraft. He was an honest, good-principled young man, but his associates were disreputable, and he was at times compromised by their actions. But still sadder for Mary was the fact that Fanny, in addition to domestic grievances, was tortured by the unkindness of an uncertain lover. She had met, not long before, Mr. Hugh Skeys, a young but already successful merchant. Attracted by her, he had been sufficiently attentive and devoted to warrant her conclusion that his intentions were serious. He seems to have loved her as deeply as he was capable of loving, but discouraged perhaps by the wretched circumstances of the family, he could not make up his mind to marry her. At one moment he was ready to desert her, and at the next to claim her as his wife. Instead of resenting his unpardonable conduct, as a prouder woman would have done, she bore it with the humble patience of a Griselda. When he was kind, she hoped for the best; when he was cold, she dreaded the worst. The consequence of these alternate states of hope and despair was mental depression, and finally physical ill health. Through her troubles, Mary, who had given her the warmest and best, because the first, love of her life, was her faithful ally and comforter. Indeed, her friendship grew warmer with Fanny's increasing misfortunes. As she said of herself a few years later, she was not a fair-weather friend. "I think," she wrote once in a letter to George Blood, "I love most people best when they are in adversity, for pity is one of my prevailing passions." She realized that she had made herself her friend's equal, if not superior, intellectually, and that, so far as moral courage and will power were concerned, she was much the stronger of the two. There is nothing which so deepens a man's or a woman's tenderness, as the knowledge that the object of it looks up to her or to him for support, and Mary's affection increased because of its new inspiration.

It has been said that it was necessary for all Mr. Wollstonecraft's daughters to leave his house. Mary was not yet in a position to help her sisters, and they had but few friends. Their chances of self-support were small. Their position was the trying one of gentlewomen who could not make servants of themselves, and who indeed would not be employed as such, and who had not had the training to fit them for higher occupations. Everina, therefore, was glad to find an asylum with her brother Edward, who was an attorney in London. She became his housekeeper, for, like Mary, she was too independent to allow herself to be supported by the charity of others. Eliza, the youngest sister, who, with greater love of culture than Everina, had had even less education, solved her present problem by marrying, but she escaped one difficulty only to fall into another still greater and more serious. The history of her married experience is important because of the part Mary played in it. The latter's independent conduct in her sister's regard is a foreshadowing of the course she pursued at a later period in the management of her own affairs.

Eliza was the most excitable and nervous of the three sisters. The family sensitiveness was developed in her to a painful degree. She was not only quick to take offence, but was ever on the lookout for slights and insults even from people she dearly loved. She assumed a defensive attitude against the world and mankind, and therefore life went harder with her than with more cheerfully constituted women. It was almost invariably the little rift that made her life-music mute. Her indignation and rage were not so easily appeased as aroused. Altogether, she was a very impossible person to live with peacefully. Mr. Bishop, the man she married, was as quick-tempered and passionate as she, and, morally, was infinitely beneath her. He was the original of the husband in the "Wrongs of Woman," who is represented as an unprincipled sensualist, brute, and hypocrite. The worst of it was that, when not carried away by his temper, his address was good and his manners insinuating. As one of his friends said of him, he was "either a lion or a spaniel." Unfortunately, at home he was always the lion, a fact which those who knew him only as the spaniel could not well believe. The marriage of two such people, needless to say, was not happy. They mutually aggravated each other. Eliza, with her sensitive, unforgiving nature, could not make allowances. Mr. Bishop would not. Much as her waywardness and hastiness were at fault, he was still more to blame in effecting the rupture between them.

The strain upon Eliza's nervous system, caused by almost daily quarrels and scenes of violence, was more than she could bear. Then, to add to her misery, she found herself in that condition in which women are apt to be peculiarly susceptible and irritable. Her pregnancy so stimulated her abnormal emotional excitement that her reason gave way, and for months she was insane. Though she had her intervals of passivity she was at times very violent, and disastrous results were feared. It was necessary for some one to keep constant guard over her, and Mary was asked to undertake this task.

Relentless as Fate in pursuing the hero of Greek Tragedy to his predestined end, were the circumstances which formed Mary's prejudice against the institution of marriage. This was the third domestic tragedy caused by the husband's petty tyranny and the wife's slender resources of defence, of which she was the immediate witness. Her experience was unfortunate. The bright side of the married state was hidden from her. She saw only its shadows, and these darkened until her soul rebelled against the injustice, not of life, but of man's shaping of it. Sad as was the fate of the Bloods and much as they needed her, the Bishop household was still sadder and its appeals more urgent, and Mary hurried thither at once.

No one can read the life of Mary Wollstonecraft without loving her, or follow her first bitter struggles without feeling honor, nay reverence, for her true womanliness which bore her bravely through them. She never shrank from her duty nor lamented her clouded youth. Without a murmur she left Walham Green and established herself as nurse and keeper to the poor mad sister. There could be no greater heroism than this. With a nervous constitution not unlike that of "poor Bess," she had to watch over the frenzied mania of the wife and to confront the almost equally insane fury of the husband. One of the letters which she wrote at this time to Everina describes forcibly enough her sister's sad condition and her own melancholy:—

Saturday afternoon, Nov. 1783.

I expected to have seen you before this, but the extreme coldness of the weather is a sufficient apology. I cannot yet give any certain account of Bess, or form a rational conjecture with respect to the termination of her disorder. She has not had a violent fit of frenzy since I saw you, but her mind is in a most unsettled state, and attending to the constant fluctuation of it is far more harassing than the watching these raving fits that had not the least tincture of reason. Her ideas are all disjointed, and a number of wild whims float on her imagination, and fall from her unconnectedly something like strange dreams, when judgment sleeps, and fancy sports at a fine rate. Don't smile at my language, for I am so constantly forced to observe her, lest she run into mischief, that my thoughts continually turn on the unaccountable wanderings of her mind. She seems to think she has been very ill used, and, in short, till I see some more favorable symptoms, I shall only suppose that her malady has assumed a new and more distressing appearance.

One thing, by way of comfort, I must tell you, that persons who recover from madness are generally in this way before they are perfectly restored, but whether Bess's faculties will ever regain their former tone, time only will show. At present I am in suspense. Let me hear from you, or see you, and believe me to be yours affectionately,

M. W.

Sunday noon.—Mr. D. promised to call last night, and I intended sending this by him. We have been out in a coach, but still Bess is far from being well. Patience—patience. Farewell.

To her desire to keep Everina posted as to the progress of affairs, we are indebted, for her letters, which give a very life-like picture of herself and her surroundings while she remained in her brother-in-law's house. They are interesting because, by showing the difficulties against which she had to contend, and the effect these had upon her, we can better appreciate the greatness of her nature by which she triumphed over them. There is another one written during this sad period which must be quoted here because it throws still more light upon Bishop's true character and his ingenuity in tormenting those who lived with him:—

Monday morning, Jan. 1784.

I have nothing to tell you, my dear girl, that will give you pleasure. Yesterday was a dismal day, long and dreary. Bishop was very ill, etc., etc. He is much better to-day, but misery haunts this house in one shape or other. How sincerely do I join with you in saying that if a person has common sense, they cannot make one completely unhappy. But to attempt to lead or govern a weak mind is impossible; it will ever press forward to what it wishes, regardless of impediments, and, with a selfish eagerness, believe what it desires practicable though the contrary is as clear as the noon-day. My spirits are hurried with listening to pros and cons; and my head is so confused, that I sometimes say no, when I ought to say yes. My heart is almost broken with listening to B. while he reasons the case. I cannot insult him with advice, which he would never have wanted, if he was capable of attending to it. May my habitation never be fixed among the tribe that can't look beyond the present gratification, that draw fixed conclusions from general rules, that attend to the literal meaning only, and, because a thing ought to be, expect that it will come to pass. B. has made a confidant of Skeys; and as I can never speak to him in private, I suppose his pity may cloud his judgment. If it does, I should not either wonder at it, or blame him. For I that know, and am fixed in my opinion, cannot unwaveringly adhere to it; and when I reason, I am afraid of being unfeeling. Miracles don't occur now, and only a miracle can alter the minds of some people. They grow old, and we can only discover by their countenances that they are so. To the end of their chapter will their misery last. I expect Fanny next Thursday, and she will stay with us but a few days. Bess desires her love; she grows better and of course more sad.

Though Mary's heart was breaking and her brain reeling, her closer acquaintance with Bishop convinced her that Eliza must not continue with him. She determined at all hazards to free her sister from a man who was slowly but surely killing her, and she knew she was right in her determination. "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist," Emerson says. Mary, because she was a true woman, was ruled in her conduct not by conventionalities or public opinion, but by her sense of righteousness. In her own words, "The sarcasms of society and the condemnation of a mistaken world were nothing to her, compared with acting contrary to those feelings which were the foundation of her principles." For some months Eliza's physical and mental illness made it impossible to take a decided step or to form definite plans. But when her child was born, and she returned to a normal, though at the same time sadder, because conscious, state, Mary felt that the time for action had arrived. That she still thought it advisable for her sister to leave her husband, though this necessitated the abandonment of her child, conclusively proves the seriousness of Bishop's faults. It was no easy matter to effect the separation. Bishop objected to it. It is never unpleasant for a man to play the tyrant, and he was averse to losing his victim. Pecuniary assistance was therefore not to be had from him, and the sisters were penniless. Mary applied to Edward, though she was not sure it was desirable for Eliza to take refuge with him. However, he does not seem to have responded warmly, for Mary's suggestion was never acted upon. Theirs was a situation in which friends are not apt to interfere, and besides, Bishop's plausibility had won over not a few to his side. Furthermore, the chance was that if he worked successfully upon Mr. Skeys' sympathies, the Bloods would be influenced. There was absolutely no one to help them, but Mary knew that it was useless to wait, and that the morrow would not make easier what seemed to her the task of the present day. When there was work to be done she never could rest with "unlit lamp and ungirt loin." What she now most wanted for her sister was liberty, and she resolved to secure this at once, and then afterwards to look about her to see how it was to be maintained.

Accordingly, one day, Bishop well out of the way, the sisters left his house forever. There was a mad, breathless drive, Bess, with her insanity half returned, biting her wedding ring to pieces, a hurried exchange of coaches to further insure escape from detection, a joyful arrival at modest lodgings in Hackney, a giving in of false names, a hasty locking of doors, and then—the reaction. Eliza, whose excitement had exhausted itself on the way, became quiet and even ready for sleep. Mary, now that immediate necessity for calmness and courage was over, grew nervous and restless. With strained ears she listened to every sound. Her heart beat time to the passing carriages, and she trembled at the lightest knock.

That night, in a wild, nervous letter to Everina, she wrote:—

I hope B. will not discover us, for I would sooner face a lion; yet the door never opens but I expect to see him, panting for breath. Ask Ned how we are to behave if he should find us out, for Bess is determined not to return. Can he force her? but I'll not suppose it, yet I can think of nothing else. She is sleepy, and going to bed; my agitated mind will not permit me. Don't tell Charles or any creature! Oh! let me entreat you to be careful, for Bess does not dread him now as much as I do. Again, let me request you to write, as B.'s behavior may silence my fears. You will soon hear from me again. Fanny carried many things to Lear's, brush-maker in the Strand, next door to the White Hart.

Yours, MARY.

Miss Johnston—Mrs. Dodds, opposite the Mermaid, Church Street, Hackney.

She looks now very wild. Heaven protect us!

I almost wish for an husband, for I want somebody to support me.

The Rubicon was crossed. But the hardships thereby incurred were but just beginning. The two sisters were obliged to keep in hiding as if they had been criminals, for they dared not risk a chance meeting with Bishop. They had barely money enough to pay their immediate expenses, and their means of making more were limited by the precautions they had to take. It had only been possible in their flight to carry off a few things, and they were without sufficient clothing. Then there came from their friends an outcry against their conduct. The general belief then was, as indeed it unfortunately continues to be, that women should accept without a murmur whatever it suits their husbands to give them, whether it be kindness or blows. Better a thousand times that one human soul should be stifled and killed than that the Philistines of society should be scandalized by its struggles for air and life. Eliza's happiness might have been totally sacrificed had she remained with Bishop; but at least the feelings of her acquaintances, in whom respectability had destroyed the more humane qualities, would have been saved. Her scheme, Mary wrote bitterly to Everina, was contrary to all the rules of conduct that are published for the benefit of new married ladies. Many felt forced to forfeit the friendship of these two social rebels, though it grieved them to the heart to do it. Mrs. Clare, be it said to her honor, remained stanch, but even she only approved cautiously, and Mary had her misgivings that she would advise a reconciliation if she once saw Bishop. To add to the hopelessness of their case, the deserted husband restrained his rage so well, and made so much of Eliza's heartlessness in abandoning her child, that he drew to himself the sympathy which should have been given to her. Mary feared the effect his pleadings and representations would have upon Edward, the extent of whose egotism she had not yet measured, and she commissioned Everina to keep him firm. As for Eliza, she was so shaken and weak, and so unhappy about the poor motherless infant, that she could neither think nor act. The duty of providing for their wants, immediate and still to come, fell entirely upon Mary. She felt this to be just, since it was chiefly through her influence that they had been brought to their present plight; but the responsibility was great, and it is no wonder that, brave as she was, she longed for some one to share it with her.

Her one source of consolation and strength at this time was her religion. This will seem strange to many, who, knowing but few facts of her life, conclude from her connection with Godwin and her social radicalism that she was an atheist. But the sincerest spirit of piety breathes through her letters written during her early troubles. When the desertion of her so-called friends made her most bitter, she wrote to Everina:—

"Don't suppose I am preaching when I say uniformity of conduct cannot in any degree be expected from those whose first motive of action is not the pleasing the Supreme Being, and those who humbly rely on Providence will not only be supported in affliction but have peace imparted to them that is past describing. This state is indeed a warfare, and we learn little that we don't smart for in the attaining. The cant of weak enthusiasts has made the consolations of religion and the assistance of the Holy Spirit appear ridiculous to the inconsiderate; but it is the only solid foundation of comfort that the weak efforts of reason will be assisted and our hearts and minds corrected and improved till the time arrives when we shall not only see perfection, but see every creature around us happy."

The consolation she found was sufficient to make her advise her friends to seek for it from the same quarter. She wrote to George Blood at a time when he was in serious difficulties:—

"It gives me the sincerest satisfaction to find that you look for comfort where only it is to be met with, and that Being in whom you trust will not desert you. Be not cast down; while we are struggling with care life slips away, and through the assistance of Divine Grace we are obtaining habits of virtue that will enable us to relish those joys that we cannot now form any idea of. I feel myself particularly attached to those who are heirs of the promises, and travel on in the thorny path with the same Christian hopes that render my severe trials a cause of thankfulness when I can think."

These passages, evangelical in tone, occur in private letters, meant to be read only by those to whom they were addressed, so that they must be counted as honest expressions of her convictions and not mere cant. Just as she wrote freely to her sisters and her intimate friends about her temporal matters, so without hesitation she talked to them of her spiritual affairs. Her belief became broader as she grew older. She never was an atheist like Godwin, or an unbeliever of the Voltaire school. But as the years went on, and her knowledge of the world increased, her religion concerned itself more with conduct and less with creed, until she finally gave up going to church altogether. But at the time of which we are writing she was regular in her attendance, and, though not strictly orthodox, clung to certain forms. The mere fact that she possessed definite ideas upon the subject while she was young shows the naturally serious bent of her mind. She had received the most superficial religious education. Her belief, such as it was, was wholly the result of her own desire to solve the problems of existence and of the world beyond the senses. It is this fact, and the inferences to be drawn from it, which make her piety so well worth recording.

There seem to have been several schemes for work afoot just then. One was that the two sisters and Fanny Blood, who, some time before, had expressed herself willing and anxious to leave home, should join their fortunes. Fanny could paint and draw. Mary and Eliza could take in needlework until more pleasant and profitable employment could be procured. Poverty and toil would be more than compensated for by the joy which freedom and congenial companionship would give them. There was nothing very Utopian in such a plan; but Fanny, when the time came for its accomplishment, grew frightened. Her hard apprenticeship had given her none of the self-confidence and reliance which belonged to Mary by right of birth. Her family, despite their dependence upon her, seemed like a protection against the outer world. And so she held back, pleading the small chances of success by such a partnership, her own poor health, which would make her a burden to them, and, in fact, so many good reasons that the plan was abandoned. She, then, with greater aptitude for suggestion than for action, proposed that Mary and Eliza should keep a haberdashery shop, to be stocked at the expense of the much-called-upon but sadly unsusceptible Edward. There is something grimly humorous in the idea of Mary Wollstonecraft, destined as she was from all eternity to sound an alarum call to arouse women from their lethargy, spending her days behind a counter attending to their trifling temporal wants! A Roland might as well have been asked to become cook, a Sir Galahad to turn scullion. Honest work is never disgraceful in itself. Indeed, "Better do to no end, than nothing!" But one regrets the pain and the waste when circumstances force men and women capable of great work to spend their energies in ordinary channels. A greater misery than indifference to the amusement in which one seeks to take part, which Hamerton counts as the most wearisome of all things, is positive dislike for the work one is bound to do. Fortunately, Fanny's project was never carried out. Probably Edward, as usual, failed to meet the proposals made to him, and Mary realized that the chains by which she would thus bind herself would be unendurable.

The plan finally adopted was that dearest to Mary's heart. She began her career as teacher. She and Eliza went to Islington, where Fanny was then living, and lodged in the same house with her. Then they announced their intention of receiving day pupils. Mary was eminently fitted to teach. Her sad experience had increased her natural sympathy and benevolence. She now made her own troubles subservient to those of her fellow-sufferers, and resolved that the welfare of others should be the principal object of her life. Before the word had passed into moral philosophy, she had become an altruist in its truest sense. The task of teacher particularly attracted her because it enabled her to prepare the young for the struggle with the world for which she had been so ill qualified. Because so little attention had been given to her in her early youth, she keenly appreciated the advantage of a good practical education. But her merits were not recognized in Islington. Like the man in the parable, she set out a banquet of which the bidden guests refused to partake. No scholars were sent to her. Therefore, at the end of a few months, she was glad to move to Newington Green, where better prospects seemed to await her. There she had relatives and influential friends, and the encouragement she received from them induced her to begin work on a large scale. She rented a house, and opened a regular school. Her efforts met with success. Twenty children became her pupils, while a Mrs. Campbell, a relative, and her son, and another lady, with three children, came to board with her. Mary was now more comfortable than she had heretofore been. She was, comparatively speaking, prosperous. She had much work to do, but by it she was supporting herself, and at the same time advancing towards her "clear-purposed goal" of self-renunciation. Then she had cause for pleasure in the fact that Eliza was now really free, Bishop having finally agreed to the separation. Mary Wollstonecraft, at the head of a house, and mistress of a school, was a very different person from Mary Wollstonecraft, simple companion to Mrs. Dawson or dependent friend of Fanny Blood. Her position was one to attract attention, and it was sufficient for her to be known, to be loved and admired. Her social sphere was enlarged. No one could care more for society than she did, when that society was congenial. At Newington Green she already began to show the preference for men and women of intellectual tastes and abilities that she manifested so strongly in her life in London. Foremost among her intimate acquaintances at this time was Dr. Richard Price, a clergyman, a Dissenter, then well known because of his political and mathematical speculations. He was an honest, upright, simple-hearted man, who commanded the respect and love of all who knew him, and whose benevolence was great enough to realize even Mary's ideals. She became deeply attached to him personally, and was a warm admirer of his religious and moral principles. His sermons gave her great delight, and she often went to listen to them. He in return seems to have felt great interest in her, and to have recognized her extraordinary mental force. Mr. John Hewlet, also a clergyman, was another of her friends, and she retained his friendship for many years afterwards. A third friend, mentioned by Godwin in his Memoirs, was Mrs. Burgh, widow of a man now almost forgotten, but once famous as the author of "Political Disquisitions." In sorrows soon to come, Mrs. Burgh gave practical proof of her affection. If a man can be judged by the character of his associates, then the age, professions, and serious connections of Mary's friends at Newington Green are not a little significant.

Much as she cared for these older friends, however, they could not be so dear to her as Fanny and George Blood. She had begun by pitying the latter for his hopeless passion for Everina, and had finished by loving him for himself with true sisterly devotion. To brother and sister both, she could open her heart as she could to no one else. They were young with her, and that in itself is a strong bond of union. They, too, were but just beginning life, and they could sympathize with all her aspirations and disappointments. It was, therefore, an irreparable loss to her when they, at almost the same time, but for different reasons, left England. Fanny's health had finally become so wretched that even her uncertain lover was moved to pity. Mr. Skeys seems to have been one of the men who only appreciate that which they think they cannot have. Not until the ill-health of the woman he loved warned him of the possibility of his losing her altogether did he make definite proposals to her. Her love for him had not been shaken by his unkindness, and in February, 1785, she married him, and went with him to Lisbon, where he was established in business. A few years earlier he might, by making her his wife, have secured her a long life's happiness. Now, as it turned out, he succeeded but in making her path smooth for a few short months. Mary's love for Fanny made her much more sensitive to Mr. Skeys' shortcomings as a lover than Fanny had been. Shortly after the marriage she wrote indignantly to George:—

"Skeys has received congratulatory letters from most of his friends and relations in Ireland, and he now regrets that he did not marry sooner. All his mighty fears had no foundation, so that if he had had courage to brave the world's opinion, he might have spared Fanny many griefs, the scars of which will never be obliterated. Nay, more, if she had gone a year or two ago, her health might have been perfectly restored, which I do not now think will ever be the case. Before true passion, I am convinced, everything but a sense of duty moves; true love is warmest when the object is absent. How Hugh could let Fanny languish in England, while he was throwing money away at Lisbon, is to me inexplicable, if he had a passion that did not require the fuel of seeing the object. I much fear he loves her not for the qualities that render her dear to my heart. Her tenderness and delicacy are not even conceived of by a man who would be satisfied with the fondness of one of the general run of women."

George Blood's departure was due to less pleasant circumstances than Fanny's. One youthful escapade which had come to light was sufficient to attach to his name the blame for another, of which he was innocent. Some of his associates had become seriously compromised; and he, to avoid being implicated with them, had literally taken flight, and had made Ireland his place of refuge.

Mary's friends left her just when she most needed them. Unfortunately, the interval of peace inaugurated by the opening of the school was but short-lived. Encouraged by the first success of her enterprise, she rented a larger house, hoping that in it she would do even better. But this step proved the Open Sesame to an inexhaustible mine of difficulties. The expense involved by the change was greater than she had expected, and her means of meeting it smaller. The population at Newington Green was not numerous or wealthy enough to support a large first-class day-school, and more pupils were not forthcoming to avail themselves of the new accommodations provided for them. It was a second edition of the story of the wedding feast, and again highways and by-ways were searched in vain. Moreover, her boarders neglected to pay their bills regularly. Instead of being a source of profit, they were an additional burden. Her life now became unspeakably sad. Her whole day was spent in teaching. This in itself would not have been hard. She always interested herself in her pupils, and the consciousness of good done for others was her most highly prized pleasure. Had the physical fatigue entailed by her work been her only hardship, she would have borne it patiently and perhaps gayly. But from morning till night, waking and sleeping, she was haunted by thoughts of unpaid bills and of increasing debts. Poverty and creditors were the two unavoidable evils which stared her in the face. Then, when she did hear from Fanny, it was to know that the chances for her recovery were diminishing rather than increasing. Reports of George Blood's ill-conduct, repeated for her benefit, hurt and irritated her. On one occasion, her house was visited by men sent thither in his pursuit by the girl who had vilely slandered him. Mrs. Campbell, with the meanness of a small nature, reproached Mary for the encouragement which she had given his vices. She loved him so truly that this must have been gall and wormwood to her sensitive heart. Mr. and Mrs. Blood continued poor and miserable, he drinking and idling, and she faring as it must ever fare with the wives of such men. Mary saw nothing before her but a dreary pilgrimage through the wide Valley of the Shadow of Death, from which there seemed no escape to the Mount Zion beyond. If she dragged herself out of the deep pit of mental despondency, it was to fall into a still deeper one of physical prostration. The bleedings and blisters ordered by her physician could help her but little. What she needed to make her well was new pupils and honest boarders, and these the most expert physician could not give her. Is it any wonder that she came in time to hate Newington Green,—"the grave of all my comforts," she called it,—to lose relish for life, and to feel cheered only by the prospect of death? She had nothing to reproach herself with. In sorrow and sickness alike she had toiled to the best of her abilities. That which her hand had found to do, she had done with all her might. The result of her labors and long-sufferance had hitherto been but misfortune and failure. Truly could she have called out with the Lady of Sorrows in the Lamentations: "Attend, all ye who pass by, and see if there be any sorrow like unto mine." Because we know how great her misery was, we can more fully appreciate the extent of her heroism. Though, as she confessed to her friends in her weariest moments, her heart was broken, she never once swerved from allegiance to the heaven-given mandate, as Carlyle calls it, "Work thou in well-doing!" She never faltered in the accomplishment of the duty she had set for herself, nor forgot the troubles of others because of her own. Though her difficulties accumulated with alarming rapidity, there was no relaxation in her attentions to Mr. and Mrs. Blood, in her care for her sister, nor in the sympathy she gave to George Blood.

Perhaps the greatest joy that came to her during this year was the news that Mr. Skeys had found a position for his brother-in-law in Lisbon. But this pleasure was more than counterbalanced by the discouraging bulletins of Fanny's health. Mr. Skeys was alarmed at his wife's increasing weakness, and was anxious to gratify her every desire. Fanny expressed a wish to have Mary with her during her confinement. The latter, with characteristic unselfishness, consented, when Mr. Skeys asked her to go to Lisbon, though in so doing she was obliged to leave school and house. This shows the sincerity of her opinion that before true passion everything but duty moves. To her, Fanny's need seemed greater than her own; and she thought to fulfil her duty towards her sister, and to provide for her welfare by giving her charge of her scholars and boarders while she was away from them. Mary's decision was vigorously questioned by her friends. Indeed, there were many reasons against it. It was feared her absence from the school for a necessarily long period would be injurious to it, and this eventually proved to be the case. The journey was a long one for a woman to make alone. And last, but not least, she had not the ready money to pay her expenses. But, despite all her friends could say, she could not be moved from her original resolution. When they saw their arguments were useless, they manifested their friendship in a more practical manner. Mrs. Burgh lent her the necessary sum of money for the journey. Godwin, however, thinks that in doing this she was acting in behalf of Dr. Price, who modestly preferred to conceal his share in the transaction. All impediments having thus been removed, Mary, in the autumn of 1785, started upon the saddest, up to this date, of her many missions of charity.

The reunion of the friends was a joyless pleasure. When Mary arrived in Lisbon, she found Fanny in the last stages of her illness, and before she had time to rest from her journey she began her work as sick-nurse. Four hours after her arrival Fanny's child was born. It had been sad enough for Mary to watch her mother's last moments and Eliza's insanity; but this new duty was still more painful. She loved Fanny Blood with a passion whose depth is beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. Her affection for her was the one romance of her youth, and she lavished upon it all the sweetness and tenderness, the enthusiasm and devotion of her nature, which make her seem to us lovable above all women. And now this friend, the best gift life had so far given her, was to be taken from her. She saw Fanny grow weaker and weaker day by day, and knew that she was powerless to avert the coming calamity. Yet whatever could be done, she did. There never has been, and there never can be, a more faithful, gentle nurse. The following letter gives a graphic description of her journey, of the sad welcome which awaited her at its termination, and the still sadder duties she fulfilled in Lisbon:—

LISBON, Nov. or Dec. 1785.

MY DEAR GIRLS,—I am beginning to awake out of a terrifying dream, for in that light do the transactions of these two or three last days appear. Before I say more, let me tell you that, when I arrived here, Fanny was in labor, and that four hours after she was delivered of a boy. The child is alive and well, and considering the very, very low state to which Fanny was reduced she is better than could be expected. I am now watching her and the child. My active spirits have not been much at rest ever since I left England. I could not write to you on shipboard, the sea was so rough; and we had such hard gales of wind, the captain was afraid we should be dismasted. I cannot write to-night or collect my scattered thoughts, my mind is so unsettled. Fanny is so worn out, her recovery would be almost a resurrection, and my reason will scarce allow me to think it possible. I labor to be resigned, and by the time I am a little so, some faint hope sets my thoughts again afloat, and for a moment I look forward to days that will, alas! never come.

I will try to-morrow to give you some little regular account of my journey, though I am almost afraid to look beyond the present moment. Was not my arrival providential? I can scarce be persuaded that I am here, and that so many things have happened in so short a time. My head grows light with thinking on it.

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