Godwin , earl of Wessex, a Saxon noble, born about the end of the 10th century, died in April, 1053. He was a cowherd, but having ingratiated himself with Ulfr, the brother-in-law of King Canute, he received in marriage the daughter of that chieftain, and became the most powerful nobleman in England. In the interest of Harold Harefoot he was believed to have procured the murder of Prince Alfred; but he was pardoned both by Hardicanute and Edward the Confessor, Alfred's brothers, and exerted himself to secure the crown for the latter. He afterward rebelled against Edward, by refusing to punish arbitrarily the men of Dover for the riot against Earl Eustace, and was obliged to flee the kingdom; but returning with a body of troops, he compelled the king-to restore his possessions and dignities. Within a year after his restoration Godwin died. The Norman historians relate that he stood up at the king's banquet to aver his innocence of the death of Alfred, but fell speechless to the earth, and died soon after.
He was the father of Harold, the last Saxon king.
Godwin ,.I. William, an English author, born at Wisbeach, Cambridgeshire, March 3, 1750, died in London, April 7, 1836. He was the son of a dissenting clergyman, was educated in the dissenting college at Hoxton, and in 1778 became minister of a congregation at Stowmarket, Suffolk. At the end of five years the incompatibility of this occupation with the new moral and political theories he had begun to entertain induced him to sever his connection with the ministry, and going to London he thenceforth devoted himself to literature. He soon began to promulgate doctrines which, if carried out, would have subverted the whole structure of society. Having already acquired some reputation by his "Sketches of History " (London, 1784) and contributions to the "Annual Register," of which he was at one time the principal conductor, he published the "Inquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness" (2 vols. 4to, 1793), in which an intellectual republic, founded upon universal benevolence, is advocated with persuasivo eloquence. In 1794 he appeared in the political arena as the champion of Home Tooke, Thelwall, Hardy, and others, who had been brought to trial on a charge of treason.
In the same year appeared his most remarkable work, "Caleb Williams," a novel designed to illustrate some of the peculiar views put forth in the "Inquiry concerning Political Justice;" but the interest of the story is so predominant that the social object of the author was entirely overlooked. In 1796 he made the acquaintance of Mary Woll-stonecraft, author of the "Vindication of the Rights of Woman," and, in accordance with the views held by both of them respecting marriage, cohabited with her for six months, when for prudential reasons they were married. His wife died after giving birth to a daughter, who became the second wife of the poet Shelley. His "Memoirs of the Author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1798) is a feeling tribute to her memory, but describes the details of her life with a minuteness which subjected him to considerable censure. In 1799 appeared "St. Leon," containing many incredible situations, but also many passages of splendid description and true pathos; it purports to be the autobiography of a philosopher who has become immortal by the discovery of the elixir of life. On this and "Caleb Williams" his reputation chiefly rests.
His other novels are "Fleetwood" (1805), "Mandeville" (1817), "Cloudesley" (1830), and "Deloraine" (1833). Among his other works were the tragedies "Antonio" (1800), and "Faulkner" (1807-'8); a "Life of Chaucer" (2 vols. 4to, 1803); "Lives of John and Edward Phillips, Nephews of Milton" (4to, 1815); and a "History of the Commonwealth" (4 vols. 8vo, 1824-'8), written with great impartiality, and valuable as a repository of facts. His last important work, "Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions, and Discoveries" (1831), was a series of essays in the style of his earlier writings. A posthumous work by him, "The Genius of Christianity Unveiled," was published in 1873. For some years he carried on business as a bookseller, and under the name of Edward Baldwin published a number of children's books, small histories, and other compilations, some of which were by himself. In the latter part of his life he obtained a clerkship in the record office. His "Autobiography, Memoirs, and Correspondence" was published in 1874. II. Mary Woll-stonecraft, an English authoress, wife of the preceding, born in Beverley, Yorkshire, April 27, 1759, died in London, Sept. 10, 1797. Her father, a man of ungovernable temper, embittered her childhood by the cruelty with which he treated his family.
A natural independence of character induced her to sever herself from such a parent, and upon the death of her mother she established a school at Islington, in the direction of which she was assisted by two of her sisters. The illness of a friend in Lisbon called her thither for a while, and upon her return to England she found her school ruined by mismanagement. After a short experience as a governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough, she determined to devote herself to a literary life. Having acquired considerable reputation by her "Thoughts on the Education of Daughters," and some works of fiction, as also by translations of Lavater's "Physiognomy" and Salzmann's "Elements of Morality," she ventured in 1791 upon a reply to Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution," and soon after published her celebrated "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1791), in which the claim of woman to share with man the functions he has exclusively exercised is argued with boldness and ability. Full of enthusiasm for the new ideas which the French revolution had inaugurated, she went to Paris, only to find her hopes crushed by the overthrow of the Girondists. She here also formed a connection with an American named Imlay, who deserted her.
Giving birth to a child, she endeavored to put an end to her existence, and afterward sought relief from her troubles in writing her "Letters from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark" (1796), which she had visited while she had her home in Paris. In 1797 she was married to William Godwin, and she died in childbed. Her posthumous works were published by her husband (4 vols. 12mo, 1798).