The second ODNB entry arising from this collaboration has now been published. The ODNB April 2018 update includes the biography of Martin Smart (b. c.1776, d. 1812), militia officer, philologist, and translator, co-authored by Pamela Clemit and Jenny McAuley.
Martin Smart, the son of a tradesman, was born in Camberwell, Surrey. He attended an academy at Highgate run by the philologist Alexander Crombie, and then an academy at Newington Green, where he was taught by the biblical scholar John Hewlett and became acquainted with other members of Mary Wollstonecraft’s circle.
When he left school, he enlisted with the West Middlesex Militia, rising through the ranks to serjeant. From the late 1790s onwards, he was an enthusiastic reader of Godwin’s works. His later career encompassed different aspects of early nineteenth-century print culture.
Martin Smart stumbled across Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) by chance. In his first letter to the author, dated 20 November 1800, he wrote:
I saw the two volumes in the house of a person into whose possession they had come through the hands of a gentleman’s servant. On the first perusal I was astonished at the principles inculcated by them. (Bod. MS Abinger c. 6, fo. 76r)
Smart was referring to the second, octavo edition (1796). His admiration was tinctured by regret at Godwin’s grammatical errors, which he listed in exhaustive detail. Nonetheless, Godwin encouraged him to write again: ‘A serjeant of militia! Good God, sir, who & what are you? Where were you born, & how were you educated?’ (Letters of William Godwin, ii. 203).
Smart in turn asked Godwin for some account of his background. He replied:
I have not yet completed the forty-fifth year of my age, therefore am not precisely the old man you seem to take me for. The Enquiry concerning Political Justice was written in the years 1791 & 1792, & revised for the second edition in 1795…. In 1796 I formed a matrimonial engagement with a woman of admirable accomplishments, whose name may may possibly have reached your ears, Mary Wollstonecraft, Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, & other works…. I was bred to the clerical profession among the dissenters & actually engaged in the exercise of it to the twenty-sixth year of my age. (Letters, ii. 211)
Smart bounced back:
I have read your Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman…. I was acquainted with some of the characters mentioned in it. It was at Newington Green, as I have told you, that I received the latter part of my education … at a school very near to that of Miss Wollstonecraft, which I find by the dates, was kept by her for the first three years of that time. (Bod. MS Abinger c. 7, fo. 52v)
Following the Peace of Amiens (1802), Smart’s militia was disbanded, and he moved to London to join Godwin’s literary circle. He found employment as a translator, compiler, index-maker, and proof-reader, often working for the publisher Richard Phillips, for whom he corrected proofs of Godwin’s Life of Geoffrey Chaucer (1803). Other projects included a concordance to Political Justice (unpublished), assisting with John Hewlett’s edition of The Holy Bible with Apocrypha and Notes (1809-10), and collating texts for Hewlett’s Commentaries and Annotations on the Holy Scriptures, 5 vols. (1816).
Martin Smart died aged 36 years in Surrey on 25 May 1812, following a period of declining health. His obituarist described him as ‘perhaps the acutest grammarian of the present age’ (Monthly Magazine, 33 (July 1812), 589).
His anthology of mainly female-authored texts for use in girls’ schools, The Female Class-Book, which included classical and biblical subjects, was published posthumously in 1813.
Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) was the original idler. He worked for thirty-seven years at the East India Company, and wrote about his daily routine:
From ten to eleven, ate a breakfast for seven:
From eleven to noon, to begin ’twas too soon;
From twelve to one, asked, ‘What’s to be done?’
From one to two, found nothing to do;
From two to three began to foresee
That from three to four would be a damned bore.
In reality, like many other idlers, he worked at full pelt. When he wasn’t writing official correspondence, he was composing satirical novels, poems, and essays. His published writings didn’t make enough for him to give up the day job. As he rose through the ranks of the East India Company, he imagined the life of the wealthy, idling classes in his stylish and witty conversation novels.
How should we live? What would the good life be like? It is tempting to believe that happiness eludes us because of lack of money. The lives of the rich can be instructive because they do not experience this constraint. In his novels, Peacock sent up the idea that wealth breeds content, and set out his own view of the summum bonum.
The ‘idle trade’ of poetry
Peacock never thought that things would turn out this way. He wanted to live the dream, not just write about it. His first ambition was to be a poet. An only child, he was brought up in genteel poverty by his widowed mother. He was removed from school at the age of twelve, owing to financial hardship, and educated himself in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, writing occasional poems while working as a clerk in the City of London.
After publishing his first volume, Palmyra, and Other Poems (1806), he just about managed to live semi-independently as a poet and scholar for a while. He settled with his mother at Chertsey in the Thames Valley, walking or boating in the summer, studying and writing when the weather held him indoors, falling in and out of love. When the money ran out, he became the Captain’s clerk on a 74-gun warship, HMS Venerable, then moored in the Downs. But life aboard ‘this floating Inferno’, he wrote to a friend, got in the way of ‘the “idle trade” of writing verses’, and he gave up the job after a year.
By 1810 Peacock was in full flight from the rapacity of commerce. ‘England is the modern Carthage’, he declared in an early letter: ‘The love of gold, “the last corruption of man”, pervades the whole state.’ He flew as far as North Wales, spending fifteen months on the outskirts of a small village in the Vale of Ffestiniog, Merionethshire, like Thoreau in his cabin at Walden Pond, a mile from any neighbour.
Here he pursued his solitary studies, fell in love with a parson’s daughter, Jane Gryffydh (whom he later married), and took long country walks. ‘On the top of Cadair Idris, I felt how happy a man may be with a little money and a sane intellect, and reflected with astonishment and pity on the madness of the multitude.’ Then a family financial crisis called him home.
The Marlow coterie
Two years later, Peacock met another idling poet called Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his life changed. Shelley, too, was interested in the good life, and had the means to pursue it—he was heir to a massive estate. Hadn’t his mentor, the anarchist philosopher William Godwin, suggested (quite wrongly) that if wealth were spread more equally, half an hour’s labour a day would be enough to feed, clothe, and house everyone? The rest of the time could be devoted to cultivated leisure.
Peacock and Shelley hit it off immediately, sharing ideas, books, and work in progress. When in July 1814 Shelley, a married man, eloped to the Continent with Godwin’s daughter Mary (and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont), he asked Peacock to take charge of his financial affairs. Back in England, he redistributed some of his wealth, paying Peacock an annual pension of £120 to act as his agent. Peacock settled with his mother at Marlow, on the Thames, where the Shelley party eventually joined him, taking a large house nearby in the spring of 1817.
The Marlow summer of 1817 was an idler’s dream. ‘The Conchoid’ (Peacock’s nickname for Shelley) and Mary were now married, with Mary expecting a third child. They attracted a stream of visitors, including Thomas Jefferson Hogg and Leigh Hunt, and the paterfamilias William Godwin. They took long walks in all directions from Marlow, within a radius of about sixteen miles. They studied the classics, read the latest literary publications, and wrote their own (including Frankenstein, which appeared on 1 January 1818). Peacock wrote in a letter: ‘Perhaps a due mixture of tea Greek & pedestrianism constitute the summum bonum.’ But something was missing. At the end of the year he proposed marriage to Claire Clairmont, who had been living with the Shelleys with her baby daughter by Lord Byron. She turned him down.
After the Shelley party left England for Italy in March 1818, Peacock spent the next summer idling alone. ‘For the most part my division of time is this’, he wrote to Shelley: ‘I devote the forenoon to writing: the afternoon to the river the woods and classical poetry: the evening to philosophy … My reading is as usual at this season somewhat desultory.’ But it wasn’t the same. Without Shelley’s companionship, he was ‘as melancholy as a gib cat’. When opportunity knocked, he needed little persuasion to give up his independent life. His entry into the East India Company in 1819, at the recommendation of a schoolmate, gave him a secure income, and the means to marry and settle down.
The good life
In his novels, Peacock tried to sustain the thought of what the good life might be like. He pioneered the novel of talk, a form of modern Socratic dialogue, in which intellectuals and well-heeled idlers come together at a country house party, or on a journey. They tackle the big questions—the nature of society, whether it promotes happiness, how to live—while eating good dinners and tossing back bumpers of wine. Discussions are inconclusive—‘The schemes for the world’s regeneration evaporated in a tumult of voices’—or end with a glee.
While conversations stall, real life takes a comic turn. Typically the male suitors dither between two women (‘Celinda—Marionetta—either—both’) and the heroines hesitate between men. Some characters and situations are replayed in successive novels. The figure of a young man with a Shelleyan passion for reforming the world, but undecided how to do it, crops up several times, with names like Sylvan Forester or Scythrop Glowry. Others perform solo turns. Sir Oran Haut-ton, the civilized orang-utan who is elected MP for the rotten borough of Onevote in Melincourt (1817), is an original. Dignified and silent, he has learned to imitate the manners of a polished gentleman—though, after a glass too many, may be glimpsed uprooting trees on his patron’s estate.
Men talk and push the bottle round. Women read the Greek classics or Italian romance, and keep up with London opera, novels, and art. The good life choices facing women idlers are at their starkest in Crotchet Castle (1831), a satire on the rich governing classes and their culture of acquisitiveness.
Lady Clarinda Bossnowl has embraced her destiny as a commodity in the marriage market. She seeks a husband with ‘a town and country-house, and plenty of servants, and a carriage and an opera box … You do not think I would take him for himself’. Susannah Touchandgo, the daughter of a bankrupt paper money manufacturer, takes a different path. When her father melts into thin air, she finds a simpler way of life, inspired by Rousseau, in Peacock’s old haunt, Merionethshire. There she lives en famille with the humble Ap Llymrys, teaching the children in exchange for hearty suppers and home-brewed ale—until Mr Chainmail, who yearns for feudal social harmony, claims her as his bride. The Welsh idyll works a change in Lady Clarinda too. She realises that true happiness lies with her impoverished artist lover, Captain Fitzchrome, not in the baubles of the marketplace.
The satisfied guest
Peacock’s most accomplished exposition of the good life is Gryll Grange (1860-1), his last satire, written in the leisure of retirement from the East India Company. By this stage of life, he had lost his wife, two of his children, most of his friends, and the political dreams of his youth. Perhaps he could now speak with authority on the question of how to live. The tone of this work is mellow and convivial, like genial conversation among friends.
Just about everybody in Gryll Grange is rich enough to live in his or her own way. Gregory Gryll, proprietor of a large estate, is ‘Epicuri de grege porcus’ (‘A pig from the herd of Epicurus’), like Peacock himself, devoted to simplicity and the pursuit of tranquil happiness. He is so wedded to quiet dining and his after-dinner bottle of port that he has never married. He plans to leave his fortune to his niece Morgana, who is besieged by unsuitable suitors. His neighbour, the Reverend Dr Opimian, shares many of his tastes: ‘a good library, a good dinner, a pleasant garden, and rural walks’.
On one of these walks, Dr Opimian discovers a wealthy young man, Algernon Falconer, living alone in a tower fitted up with a dining room, a wine cellar, a library, and seven beautiful, chaste young women to wait on him (‘Homeric damsels’, Dr Opimian says). Falconer explains:
I have aimed at living, like an ancient Epicurean, a life of tranquillity … With what classical studies, and rural walks, and a domestic society peculiarly my own, I led what I considered the perfection of life: ‘days so like each other they could not be remembered.’
Is this the perfection of life? Dr Opimian, a comfortable married man, thinks not. He plots to draw the young man into the ambit of Gryll Grange, where a large party is assembled. At Gryll Grange the good life is social. Scenes are dedicated to mutual enjoyment: a large company over dinner or two lovers tête-à-tête. The guests engage in all the pastimes of wealthy nineteenth-century idlers:
After luncheon there was walking in the park, rowing or sailing on the lake, riding or driving in the adjacent country, archery in a spacious field; and in bad weather billiards, reading in the library, music in the drawing-rooms, battledore and shuttlecock in the hall.
Like the ancient Greeks, the characters delight in bodily exercise: Lord Curryfin is seen taming a horse, Miss Niphet running like Atalanta; their courtship flourishes in shared activities like skating and dancing, where they are matched in ‘poetry of motion’.
The book ends with the communal festivities of Christmas. Nine couples—surely a record for Peacock—are united. As well as Morgana and Falconer, Lord Curryfin and Miss Niphet, the seven Homeric damsels pair up with seven suitors, led by Harry Hedgerow. Pining for love of one of them, he brings along six friends for her sisters. These earthy partners are, Harry says by way of recommendation, ‘all something to do with the land and the wood: farmers, and foresters, and nurserymen, and all that.’ Each finds a distinct favourite among the seven vestals.
Gryll Grange rejects the way of the hermit and celebrates living life to the full. For one of his epigraphs, Peacock translates a fragment from the Greek comic poet Alexis’ Tarantinoi:
As men who leave their homes for public games,
We leave our native element of darkness
For life’s brief light. And who has most of mirth,
And wine, and love, may, like a satisfied guest,
Return, contented, to the night he sprang from.
The publication was launched at the V&A on 11 December 2017, at which three short talks were delivered by representatives of each of the collaborating institutions, introduced by the V&A’s Director, Tristram Hunt. This blog post is the last of a series of three publishing the texts of the presentations in the order in which they were given.
To read the first presentation, click here; to read the second presentation, click here.
Godwin, Digitisation, and the V&A’s Literary Manuscripts
Neil Fraistat’s paper mentioned a range of activities involved in the digital curation of literary texts, including transcription, correcting, encoding and annotation. However, in the Godwin digitisation project, there were several earlier, analogue stages.
To begin with, we needed to undertake some conservation work on the physical manuscripts before we could photograph them. This involved gentle cleaning and repairing small tears in individual sheets, and reinforcing the boards and spine for one guard book, reattaching them to the text block. The photography of the guard books was complicated by the fact that the manuscript leaves had been positioned alternately higher or lower on the guards. We experimented with various ways of doing this effectively. In the end, we decided to show each manuscript leaf as it is seen at each page opening, rather than attempt to mask out text on any other leaves that might be visible above or below its edges.
We also had to create the appropriate image metadata to supply to S-GA, with excellent input from Pamela Clemit and her colleague Jenny McAuley at QMUL. S-GA currently shows the page images in their ‘physical manifest’— how they are currently bound—and without any transcription or searchable version of the text. Any future phase of the project might attempt to present the manuscripts in their logical order, preferably linked to a full transcription.
The Forster Collection
We have John Forster, author and collector, to thank for the fact that the Godwin manuscripts are now in the V&A’s National Art Library. When the library of their first purchaser Dawson Turner was sold in 1859, the holograph manuscripts of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, Life of Chaucer, and History of the Commonwealth were bought by Forster. He was an admirer of Godwin’s work and is known to have visited him in the 1830s. On Forster’s death in 1876, the four Godwin manuscripts, together with the rest of his collection, passed to the V&A.
The V&A’s Forster Collection contains many other treasures, including a pencil caricature of Godwin as the author of Thoughts on Man (1831), by Alfred Croquis (pseudonym of Daniel Maclise), reproduced here (V&A F. 87: 13).
A printed version of this image was published in William Maginn’s ‘Gallery of Literary Characters’ in Fraser’s Magazine in 1834. The series ran from 1830 to 1838 and comprised notices of contemporary personalities, each accompanied by a pen portrait by Croquis. Harriet Martineau wrote: ‘The high Tory favourites of the Magazine were exhibited to the best advantage; while Liberals were represented as Godwin was. Because the finest thing about him was his noble head, they put on a hat; and they presented him in profile because he had lost his teeth, and his lips fell in’ (Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, 1877).
The Maclise drawing is stored in the V&A’s Prints, Drawings, Paintings and Photographs collection (PDP), which holds around a million artworks in total. Via an initiative known as the Factory, we’re systematically cataloguing and digitising the entire PDP collection. As a result, we now have some 750,000 catalogue records and 250,000 images available online for the Department’s curatorial objects.
Nowadays, John Forster is best-known as the friend, lawyer and first biographer of Charles Dickens—who was a great admirer of Caleb Williams. The V&A’s Forster Collection includes the manuscripts of most of Dickens’s novels, plus marked-up proofs, monthly parts and first editions. We also have numerous original illustrations. The V&A’s Research Institute (VARI) is currently involved in a range of digital arts and humanities projects, supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. I’m co-leading one of these, which is entitled Deciphering Dickens.
One of the pilot project’s aims is to explore the viability of uncovering some of the author’s deleted text. This is likely to be very difficult to achieve in practice, but we can certainly decipher some parts and indicate the passages that were subject to major revision. Dickens’s handwriting is much harder to read than Godwin’s, but we’re hoping to include an element of crowdsourcing in the project too. In Todd Presner’s phrase, quoted in Neil Fraistat’s paper, we’re seeking to ‘involve citizens in the academic enterprise’.
We plan to make some of the manuscripts available using an emerging standard known as the International Image Interoperability Format (IIIF). We already have an experimental IIIF server operating in-house, with the page images for Bleak House loaded. Ultimately, we hope to be able to link the page images to the TEI-encoded text of the original manuscripts and the published editions. We shall probably make use of IIIF’s ‘annotations’ feature too.
The Reproduction of Cultural Heritage
As it happens, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of a much earlier initiative, promoted by the V&A’s founding director, the British civil servant and inventor Sir Henry Cole. By the mid-1860s the V&A was heavily involved in efforts to preserve and disseminate copies of works of art, in various formats—including plaster casts, photographs, and electrotypes—as a way of disseminating knowledge to the Victorian public.
In 1867 Cole drew up an international treaty, entitled the ‘Convention for Promoting Universally Reproductions of Works of Art for the Benefit of Museums of all Countries’, which was eventually signed by eleven European countries. This amounted to a nineteenth-century version of today’s Creative Commons license and allowed museums to make copies of each other’s works for educational purposes. The V&A’s Cast Courts, just along the corridor from the National Art Library, contain some of the world’s largest surviving analogue surrogates. Cole would have gladly included digital surrogates too, I’m sure, if the technology had been available at the time.
We are particularly pleased that the manuscripts of Godwin’s most famous works are now publicly available online, and we are sure that the V&A’s first director would have approved. The process of digitising Godwin’s manuscripts has also proved to be an invaluable testbed for developing our ideas for the digital Dickens project.
This project was supported by the QMUL Humanities and Social Sciences Collaboration Fund.
The publication was launched at the V&A on 11 December 2017, at which three short talks were delivered by representatives of each of the collaborating institutions, introduced by the V&A’s Director, Tristram Hunt. This blog post is the second of a series of three publishing the texts of the presentations in the order in which they were given.
To read the first presentation, click here; to read the third presentation, click here.
The Participatory Turn of The Shelley-Godwin Archive
In a recent essay, the UCLA digital humanities scholar Todd Presner identifies the core Utopian idea of the digital humanities (DH) as ‘participation without condition’. For Presner, this participation begins with how DH is opening up the walls of the academy by
conceiving of scholarship in ways that foundationally involve community partners, cultural institutions, the private sector, non-profits, government agencies, and slices of the general public.
In this way, DH expands ‘both the notion of scholarship and the public sphere in order to create new sites and nodes of engagement, documentation, and collaboration’. DH practitioners ‘are able to revitalize the cultural record in ways that involve citizens in the academic enterprise and bring the academy into the expanded public sphere’. The Shelley-Godwin Archive (S-GA) is engaged in precisely this kind of project, built ultimately not from the perspective of a single editor or small editorial team, but from the perspective of dispersed and distributed curators or editors.
The importance of such a project gains added force from three relevant aspects of the current academic context:
David Marshall’s observation that the current academy is a nineteenth-century institution in which a twentieth-century curriculum is taught to twenty-first-century students;
the apparent fact that most humanities undergraduates don’t even know that there is such a thing as humanities research;
the assertion made in a talk by Donald Brinkman, then of Microsoft Research, that humanists don’t just need ‘big data’, they need ‘deep data’.
These factors raise at least three important questions for textual scholars:
How can we best bring our research into the graduate and undergraduate classroom?
How can we fruitfully engage the public, ‘citizen humanists’, in our work, helping to deepen the data of literary archives and the questions we ask of them?
How can we best curate and explore our datasets?
By ‘curation’ in this particular literary context, we mean a variety of activities including transcription, correction, encoding, and annotation that make big data into deep data.
Scholarly Community Sourcing
The sciences have quite successfully employed digital technology to harness the energy, passion, and intelligence of citizen scientists to chart the stars in Galaxy Zooand the other projects in Zooniverse. Humanists have begun to do the same with such successful efforts as the Transcribe Bentham project at University College London, and the New York Public Library’s What’s on the Menu?—in which over a million people helped to transcribe and map NYPL’s collection of over 45,000 New York restaurant menus dating back to the nineteenth century.
These and other successful scholarly crowdsourcing projects have shown decisively that we can engage a wide array of communities, who contribute diverse skills, information, and viewpoints not possessed by members of the original project team, and at the same time bridge the divide between the academy and the public.
At S-GA, we’re exploring the potential value that scholarly community sourcing might bring to textual archives and editions—work that we see as addressing crucial questions about who gets to participate in the work of the humanities, on what terms, and with what consequences. S-GA was originally supported by a multi-year grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, and is based on a partnership between the New York Public Library and Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), in cooperation with the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. S-GA also includes key contributions from the Huntington Library, the British Library, the Houghton Library, and now, the Victoria and Albert Museum. Together these partners hold over 90% of all known manuscripts by William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley.
Like many such archives developed since the mid-1990s, S-GA aims to provide access to rare and widely dispersed primary materials in the form of page images under open licenses of as many of these manuscripts as possible, through a series of public releases. These began on Halloween 2013 with the launch of the Frankenstein Notebooks containing all known draft and fair copy manuscripts of the novel fully transcribed and encoded. Frankenstein was followed last spring by the fair-copy manuscripts of Shelley’s greatest poem, Prometheus Unbound, also fully transcribed and encoded. They are now joined by the page images of Godwin’s Political Justice and Caleb Williams.
Typically, given the limits of funding and labor, these digitized manuscripts will be publicly released in one of three forms of development:
page images with transcriptions that are fully corrected and TEI-encoded (as with Frankenstein and Prometheus Unbound);
page images with transcriptions that have not yet been corrected (as will be the case for most of Shelley’s manuscripts at the Bodleian Library);
page images only (as with Political Justice and Caleb Williams).
The curatorial status of each page in S-GA is color-coded, so that users can understand the relative trustworthiness of transcriptions and encoding. In S-GA’s subsequent phases, the color-coding will also serve as an indication of what type of curatorial work users might best contribute.
The innovative technical infrastructure of S-GA builds on the Shared Canvas Data Model and the Text Encoding Initiative’s Genetic Editions vocabulary in order to open up the S-GA to widespread use, and to support distributed participant curation in subsequent phases of the project.
Meanwhile, it also enables users to explore the contents of S-GA in a variety of ways. This is because the metadata associated with each manuscript page can be grouped and re-grouped usefully through the creation of a ‘manifest’. In general, what we call a ‘physical manifest’ represents pages in the sequence in which they currently appear in a manuscript. What we call a ‘logical manifest’ provides the user with a view of the images and transcriptions in the sequence in which they are meant to be placed in the final version of the work if the physical manuscript sequence is not in that order.
For example, our Frankenstein manuscripts have several manifests enabling the page images to be viewed in a variety of sequences:
three manifests (one for each manuscript) that list the manuscript shelfmark and arrange the images within their order in the manuscript as they are currently found in the Bodleian Library;
four manifests that reconstitute the order of the four Notebooks in which these manuscripts were originally bound back when the Shelleys were working on them;
other manifests that enable the material to be viewed, for instance, in the two-volume format in which Mary Shelley originally composed the novel, or the three-volume format in which the novel was originally published.
In addition, for manuscripts that contain writing by more than one person, the search engine and the main view pane includes the option to isolate the writing of each participant so that the user may study the contributions of each author in greater detail and with more clarity. This function is particularly useful in the Frankenstein manuscripts, where Shelley adds numerous editorial emendations and suggestions to Mary Shelley’s rough draft.
These kinds of functionalities were made possible for Frankenstein partly through an experiment with networked, distributed transcription and encoding during S-GA’s first phase with a team of students in two graduate seminars at the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia. They transcribed and encoded roughly a third of the manuscript pages of Frankenstein, overseen by an expert encoder and a Shelley scholar. Their curatorial tasks included comparing and correcting the transcription of page images; distinguishing between passages written in the hands of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley; interpreting sequences of revision; and encoding the whole in XML based on the TEI Genetic Edition vocabulary.
Students were thus able to get a unique grasp of the still debated question of how much of Frankenstein was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to gain a deeper interpretive understanding of this portion of the novel. They were also introduced in a material way to a wide range of issues and methods arising from the migration of manuscripts into digital form.
By scaling up such participatory projects in its next phase, S-GA hopes to help move humanities research deeper into the classroom and out to the public. The participatory turn aims to make manuscripts such as the newly released Political Justice and Caleb Williams freely available to all. Students and citizen humanists using the S-GA may thus become active, knowledgeable, and critical participants in the electronic literary archives that now constitute an important part of our cultural heritage.
This project was supported by the QMUL Humanities and Social Sciences Collaboration Fund.
The publication was launched at the V&A on 11 December 2017, at which three short talks were delivered by representatives of each of the collaborating institutions, introduced by the V&A’s Director, Tristram Hunt. This blog post is the first of a series of three, publishing the texts of the presentations in the order in which they were given.
To read the second presentation, click here; to read the third presentation, click here.
Here is the text of the first talk, by Pamela Clemit:
Political Justice and Caleb Williams: Writing Two Masterpieces
The last decade of the eighteenth century in Britain was a time like our own: riches and poverty; ostentation and indigence; meaningless violence, cruelty, and heartlessness.
But in one respect it was different. Across the Channel, in France, there had been a revolution. The people had risen, and had overthrown the monarchy and the aristocracy. It was possible, briefly, to envisage a better future.
William Godwin, a London journalist and former nonconformist minister in his mid-thirties, imagined what that future life should be. He began to write An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. When this massive book was published in 1793, he became the most celebrated public intellectual of his time. He married Mary Wollstonecraft, the early advocate of women’s rights, but she died shortly after the birth of their daughter Mary (who grew up to marry Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to write Frankenstein). Godwin’s heyday was brief, but his reputation revived from the 1880s onwards, when he was claimed as the father of philosophical anarchism, and it is now surging again.
The Quest for a Just World
He is worth reading today for his sense that things might be different from how they are. Godwin was engaged in a quest for a just world. It was self-evident to him that we all share the same need for subsistence and dignity. Until everyone’s needs are met, no-one has a claim for anything above these basic needs. That is simple justice. This bedrock of human dignity requires property to be shared equally.
Must we sacrifice all that is colourful and pleasurable in life to satisfy some abstract notion of justice? Not at all, thought Godwin. Equality is going to be fun. Intellectual improvement comes first. Imagine what opportunities for creativity and social progress will open up once everybody is educated. People will be naturally far-sighted. They will crave lives of experiential fulfilment, not the baubles of the marketplace. As people become wiser, government will gradually wither away. The rule of law will be replaced by the rule of reason. Godwin rejected all forms of political authority. He envisaged a society based on justice, equality, tolerance, and mutual moral accountability.
Writing Political Justice
‘When a man writes a book of methodical investigation’, Godwin declared in 1797, ‘he does not write because he understands the subject, but he understands the subject because he has written’. He formulated his ideas as he went along. We know this because the sole surviving manuscript of Political Justice is full of revisions. There are numerous cancellations of words, sentences, and longer passages, with revisions between the lines, in the margins, and sometimes on separate leaves or scraps of paper. Godwin’s diary shows that he worked slowly and meticulously: drafting, reading widely, consulting with friends, and then redrafting until he got it right.
Godwin’s method of writing—two steps forward, one step back—was also a response to changing historical events. Over the sixteen months in which he was engaged on Political Justice, the French Revolution descended into violence and terror. The British government began a campaign against reformers at home and tried to suppress freedom of speech. The trial of Thomas Paine (in absentia) for seditious libel in Part Two of Rights of Man (1792)—a work which Godwin believed shared a common purpose with his own—indicated just how carefully he had to choose his words.
Godwin noted in his diary on 4 January 1793: ‘Call on Davis [his printer], best book that ever was published’. This suggests that the main text of Political Justice was substantively complete and printed by this date. On 7 January he turned his attention to the Preface. He continued to make final adjustments over the next fortnight, probably seeking to forestall prosecution for authorship of the work.
These last-minute revisions were made at a time when Britain was preparing for war with France. On 17 January, Louis XVI of France was sentenced to death by the French National Convention; the news broke in London on 21 January, the same day as his execution. Godwin reached for his pen and added a final paragraph to the Preface:
It is the fortune of the present work to appear before a public that is panic struck, and impressed with the most dreadful apprehensions of such doctrines as are here delivered.… But it is the property of truth to be fearless, and to prove victorious over every adversary.
On 1 February the French National Convention declared war on Britain and Holland, urging the British people to rise against their oppressors—just three days after Godwin had recorded in his diary, ‘Finish Pol. Justice’.
Political Justice was published on 14 February 1793. Godwin dodged prosecution by presenting the work as ‘by its very nature an appeal to men of study and reflection’—though it was probably its high price (£1.16s) that convinced the government it was not worth prosecuting. Ten days later, Godwin began writing Caleb Williams, in which he dramatized his ideas for a wider audience.
A Real-Life Story of State Persecution
Caleb Williams—originally titled ‘Things As They Are’—was one of the first ‘condition of England’ novels, and is a thrilling tale of detection and pursuit. The story is told by the servant Caleb, who is driven by a fatal curiosity to probe his master Falkland’s secret past. When he discovers that Falkland is a murderer, he runs away. Falkland hunts him across the length and breadth of the country until, finally, the two men confront each other and confess their mutual errors. The novel went through five editions in Godwin’s lifetime and has never been out of print.
Caleb Williams draws power from a darkening world. The war with France led to ‘Pitt’s Terror’: judicial prosecutions, repressive legislation, and the use of spies and informers to stamp out the British reform movement. Godwin worked steadily through all this, revising as he went along, just as he had done with Political Justice, until the first two volumes were complete.
In October 1793 he started Volume III—and ground to a halt. Only a few weeks earlier, the Scottish radicals Thomas Muir and Thomas Fyshe Palmer, educated men just like himself, had been tried for sedition and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. Godwin visited them in the hulks at Woolwich, where they laboured as ‘felons like the rest’—and he took the measurements of the Newgate cell of another middle-class radical, Joseph Gerrald, as he awaited transportation. When, at the start of April 1794, he picked up his pen again, it was to tell a real-life story of state persecution.
Godwin completed Volume III within the month. But as soon as he finished, he saw that the ending of the book as originally planned did not fit with the novel as it had developed in the process of writing. From 4 to 8 May he composed a ‘new catastrophe’, which reflected his response to the plight of victims of judicial persecution. This ending appeared when the novel was published on 26 May 1794.
Getting it Right
In each case, all the work was done on one manuscript: drafting, writing, correcting—and marking up for printing. Godwin was so confident he was getting it right that he began to send portions of each manuscript to the printer when only half of it was completed. This became his customary practice, as he later wrote to Archibald Constable:
It has been my habit … to write with so much deliberation & thought, that I have never hesitated to send my work to the press by the time the half of it was completed; & and as it drew to its conclusion, the printer & the author generally finished within three days of each other.
These manuscripts are the closest we can get to Godwin’s original intentions. They contain the evidence of his quest for clarity and purpose—in the words of his great progenitor, John Milton, ‘still searching … still closing up truth to truth as we find it’. They bear witness to years that tried men’s souls—and the message they convey is as timely as it has ever been.
This project was supported by the QMUL Humanities and Social Sciences Collaboration Fund.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) thought that a woman’s place was in the resistance. Her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), anticipated most of the ideas of modern feminism. Revolutionary thinker, Romantic traveller, citizen of the world, lover, wife, and mother: she packed a huge range of experiences into a short life.
She made up her life as she went along, testing out new roles. She was born in Spitalfields, London, into a middle-class family of declining fortunes. The family moved from place to place. Her mother did not seem to care for her daughters and her father was violent. She learned to read and write at a day school in Yorkshire, and had no other formal education. In her late teens, she left home to become a lady’s companion.
‘I am not born to tread in the beaten track’
At the age of twenty-four Wollstonecraft and her sisters opened a school at Newington Green, then a village north of London. Here she met the luminaries of rational dissent, the troublemaking, heterodox wing of English religious nonconformity (later known as Unitarians). These dissidents included the philosopher Richard Price, who became a friend and guide. The rational dissenters were excluded from full civil rights and advocated a new morality of tolerance, equality, and reason.
The school failed and Wollstonecraft went to Ireland as governess to an aristocratic family. Here she wrote her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788), drawing on her own experiences. When she encouraged the eldest daughter to rebel against her parents, she was dismissed. ‘I am … going to be the first of a new genus’, she wrote to her sister Everina: ‘You know I am not born to tread in the beaten track—the peculiar bent of my nature pushes me on’. She was signed up by Joseph Johnson, the leading radical publisher of the day, to write for the Analytical Review.
Johnson acted as a surrogate parent to Wollstonecraft. She joined a circle of progressive writers, artists, theologians, and political reformers who met for afternoon dinners above his shop. Most of them welcomed the French Revolution of 1789 as the start of the millennium promised in scripture. Richard Price distilled their euphoria into a sermon, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (1789), which provoked Edmund Burke’s counter-attack in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
Within a month Wollstonecraft published a reply, A Vindication of the Rights of Men. She poured scorn on Burke’s ‘pampered sensibility’ and condemned hereditary riches. Suddenly she was famous.
A proper education for women would be transformative
In September 1791, the French National Assembly proposed a new system of education which excluded women from civic life. Wollstonecraft responded with her most celebrated work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, completed in six weeks. Middle-class women, she argued, were degraded by the attitudes of pleasure-seeking men, and by the unnatural distinctions of social rank. A proper education for women would be transformative. It would equip them to be better wives and mothers, to enter civic and professional life—and to reform the world. ‘These may be termed Utopian dreams’, she wrote. They went viral. By the end of 1792 her fame had spread across Europe.
Wollstonecraft began to experience the tensions between ideas and life. In the summer of 1792 she planned to travel to Paris with Johnson and his intimate friend Henry Fuseli, the painter, to witness the French Revolution at first hand. Wollstonecraft was attracted to Fuseli, who stoked her romantic feelings. When the Paris plan fell through, she visited Fuseli’s wife Sophia and asked to move into their house as her husband’s spiritual spouse. Sophia threw her out, and Wollstonecraft travelled alone to Paris.
She stayed in France for two years, through the start of the war with England and the Terror, writing a history of the French Revolution. In Paris she joined a group of British and American radicals at White’s Hotel, and imbibed a cocktail of politics, espionage, and bohemian living. She fell in love with Gilbert Imlay, a former American army officer seeking easy profits from the war in Europe. By the end of the summer of 1793, she was pregnant. ‘I have felt some gentle twitches’, she wrote to Imlay in November, ‘which make me begin to think, that I am nourishing a creature who will soon be sensible of my care.—This thought has … produced an overflowing of tenderness to you.’
In the autumn of 1793 English residents in Paris became vulnerable to arrest as enemies of the Revolution, but Imlay was shielded by his American passport. He registered Wollstonecraft as his wife at the American Embassy, and the pair began to live together openly. Imlay left for Le Havre to run the British naval blockade, shipping goods in and out of France via the neutral Baltic ports. Wollstonecraft bombarded him with reproachful letters, followed by herself. They set up house in Le Havre as a conventional married couple.
In May 1794 Wollstonecraft gave birth to a daughter, Frances (Fanny) Imlay, and became absorbed in motherhood: ‘My little Girl begins to suck so manfully’, she reported to a woman friend, ‘that her father reckons saucily on her writing the second part of the R—ts of Woman.’ Imlay moved on, this time to London, leaving Wollstonecraft alone in Paris with her baby daughter and French nursemaid, Marguerite.
Mary rowed to Putney Bridge and threw herself in the Thames
The exiled Irish radical Archibald Hamilton Rowan became a loyal friend. He wrote to his wife: ‘“What!”, said I within myself, ‘this is Miss Mary Wollstonecraft, parading about with a child at her heels, with as little ceremony as if it were a watch she had just bought at the jeweller’s. So much for the rights of women,” thought I.’ In the spring of 1795 Wollstonecraft joined Imlay in London and found he had been unfaithful. She took an overdose; he saved her life.
Imlay held out the promise of reconciliation if she would go to Scandinavia to sort out a failed shipping exploit. He had tried to run a cargo of French silver bullion (made from the melting down of church ornaments) through the naval blockade to Gothenburg in Sweden, where it could be used as payment for grain. The ship never arrived and the silver went missing, prompting a judicial enquiry. Wollstonecraft’s mission was to seek compensation for Imlay, either informally or through the courts. In June 1795 she embarked with the thirteen-month-old Fanny and her French maid. She spent the next four months on lonely sea-journeys to provincial Nordic towns, bargaining with officials, recording her impressions of Scandinavian scenery, and of how women occupied their time in different countries.
When she got back to London, Imlay was living with an actress. Wollstonecraft took a boat and rowed to Putney Bridge, walked up and down in the rain to drench her clothes, and threw herself into the Thames. She was saved by two watermen. George Eliot wrote to her friend Emmanuel Deutsch in 1871:
Remember, it has happened to many to be glad they did not commit suicide, though they once ran for the final leap, or as Mary Wolstonecraft did, wetted their garments well in the rain hoping to sink the better when they plunged. She tells how it occurred to her as she was walking in this damp shroud, that she might live to be glad that she had not put an end to herself—and so it turned out.
Wollstonecraft did not make the final break with Imlay until March 1796. She wrote in her last letter to him: ‘I part with you in peace.’
Wollstonecraft kept on working. She recast her private letters to Imlay in Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796), a mixture of travel narrative, sociological analysis, and personal reflection:
When a warm heart has received strong impressions, 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 book melted hearts. ‘She has made me in love with a cold climate, and frost and snow, with a northern moonlight’, wrote the poet Robert Southey. William Godwin, author of the anarchist magnum opus An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), later observed: ‘If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.’
Wollstonecraft and Godwin first met in 1791 and they quarrelled. They were reintroduced in January 1796. In April she defied etiquette and called on him unchaperoned and uninvited. They began to see each other. In July, while Godwin was visiting friends in Norfolk, Wollstonecraft moved with Fanny to Judd Place West on the edge of Somers Town, close to Godwin in Chalton Street (near what is now the British Library in St Pancras). In mid-August, they became lovers.
‘We did not marry’, wrote Godwin, who had objected to marriage in Political Justice: ‘We felt alike in this, as we did perhaps in every other circumstance that related to our intercourse.’ Their letters record an enlightened intimacy, with up to three exchanges a day, as they tried to live out their most deeply held convictions. They lived and worked apart, read and criticized each other’s works in progress, and ‘woo[ed] philosophy’ together—for, Wollstonecraft declared, ‘I do not like to lose my Philosopher even in the lover.’ She began a second novel, The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria, and discovered she was pregnant again.
Wollstonecraft and Godwin married quietly at Old St Pancras Church on 29 March 1797. To their surprise and chagrin, some of their women friends took offence. Lawful wedlock confirmed that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imlay, and that her daughter Fanny was illegitimate. They settled together at 29 Polygon Buildings in Somers Town, caring jointly for ‘little Fannikin’, while Godwin took a separate room for work nearby.
When he went off to visit his rich friend Thomas Wedgwood at the family pottery works in Staffordshire, Wollstonecraft sent cheerful reports of ‘Master William’, and of herself: ‘I begin to love this little creature, and to anticipate his birth as a fresh twist to a knot, which I do not wish to untie—Men are spoilt by frankness, I believe, yet I must tell you that I love you better than I supposed I did, when I promised to love you for ever … You are a tender, affectionate creature; and I feel it thrilling through my frame giving, and promising pleasure.’
Back in his study, on 30 August 1797, Godwin received three notes from Wollstonecraft which reported on labour pains heralding the birth of a daughter, Mary (future author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley). The child was healthy, but eleven days later Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever.
‘I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again’, Godwin wrote to Thomas Holcroft, his closest friend. He gave her a Christian funeral, but was too distressed to attend. She was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard on 15 September.
Godwin’s friends raised money for a plain monument to the ‘Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. It is still in the churchyard today, but when Mary Shelley died in 1851, Wollstonecraft’s remains, along with Godwin’s, were moved to St Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth, and reburied in the Shelley family tomb with their daughter’s.
Wollstonecraft’s death brought her life into the public domain. In January 1798 her grieving husband published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a candid depiction of every phase of Wollstonecraft’s life. Godwin wrote for posterity and believed that the story of Wollstonecraft’s career would inspire future reformers. But counter-revolutionary sentiment was running high by 1798. His exposure of Wollstonecraft’s unconventional way of living scandalized conservatives and entrenched hostility to women’s rights.
Within half a century of Wollstonecraft’s death, suffragist feminists in America and Europe began to champion her. The suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett wrote an introduction to the 100th anniversary edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1891). In the early twentieth century, left-wing thinkers such as Eleanor Marx and Emma Goldman were drawn to her fusion of political, social, and emotional rebellion, while Virginia Woolf, the progressive modernist writer, applauded her ‘experiments in living’. The feminist movement of the 1960s appropriated Wollstonecraft as their founding mother, and enlisted her in their cause of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal pay.
Mary Wollstonecraft lives on. She stands for a society based on equality, toleration, and humanity, and free from misogyny and sexual injustice. She saw that the tyranny of commercial wealth could be as destructive as that of rank and privilege. ‘She is alive and active’, as Virginia Woolf said, ‘she argues and experiments, we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living.’
William Godwin was an English radical political philosopher of the French Revolutionary era. He married Mary Wollstonecraft, the early advocate of women’s rights, but lost her shortly after the birth of their daughter Mary, who grew up to marry Godwin’s disciple, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to write Frankenstein.
Godwin shot to fame with a massive book, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), now seen as a founding text of philosophical anarchism. He rejected all forms of political authority in favour of justice, equality, and mutual moral accountability. The rule of law would be replaced by the rule of reason. Godwin’s greatest novel, Caleb Williams (1794), was the first detective thriller in the European narrative tradition. A study in power relations, it dramatised the impact of tyrannical government on the ordinary individual.
Under the leadership of Pamela Clemit of QMUL’s School of English and Drama, one of the world’s most renowned Godwin scholars, the original handwritten manuscripts of these two epochal works will be digitised for the first time and made freely available worldwide.
These treasures are held at the V&A in London, in a vast archive of literary manuscripts. The V&A will undertake conservation and photography, and will host a public event in September 2017 to launch the new electronic publication.
MITH, one of the world’s leading digital humanities centres, will publish images of the manuscripts on the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This electronic resource is making freely available the digitised manuscripts of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley, reuniting online the handwritten legacy of one of England’s most important literary families. “MITH is excited to be working on this project with two such distinguished partners, and we look forward to publishing images of these momentous texts,” said Neil Fraistat, Director of MITH and a General Editor of the Shelley-Godwin Archive.
Pamela Clemit said: “Digitising the manuscripts of Godwin’s most celebrated works will make it possible for everyone to experience the thrill of using the original documents without visiting the archive. Both manuscripts contain extensive revisions, providing a unique record of what was sayable at a particular historical moment.
“These are works of political protest, written during a government crackdown on freedom of speech in the aftermath of the French Revolution. One of them imagines a better future; the other dramatises the experience of living in a world of inequality, hardship, and injustice. They have a special appeal in turbulent times like our own.”
Bill Sherman, the V&A’s Director of Research and Collections, said: “We are delighted by this partnership between the world’s largest museum of art, design, and performance, and academic leaders in the fields of literature and digital humanities. The project will introduce new readers to two of the most powerful and enduring literary texts in the V&A’s manuscript collections.”