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The Love Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay   By:

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The Love Letters OF Mary Wollstonecraft TO GILBERT IMLAY

WITH A PREFATORY MEMOIR By Roger Ingpen

ILLUSTRATED WITH PORTRAITS

Philadelphia J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY London: HUTCHINSON & CO. 1908

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT'S LETTERS

EDITED BY ROGER INGPEN

LEIGH HUNT'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Illustrated Edition. 2 Vols. A. CONSTABLE & CO.

ONE THOUSAND POEMS FOR CHILDREN: A Collection of Verse Old and New. HUTCHINSON & CO.

FORSTER'S LIFE OF OLIVER GOLDSMITH. Abridged. (Standard Biographies.) HUTCHINSON & CO.

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON. Abridged. (Standard Biographies.) HUTCHINSON & CO.

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON. Complete. Illustrated Edition. 2 Vols. PITMAN.

[Illustration: Mary Wollstonecraft

From an engraving, after the painting by John Opie, R.A. ]

PREFACE

I

Of Mary Wollstonecraft's ancestors little is known, except that they were of Irish descent. Her father, Edward John Wollstonecraft, was the son of a prosperous Spitalfields manufacturer of Irish birth, from whom he inherited the sum of ten thousand pounds. He married towards the middle of the eighteenth century Elizabeth Dixon, the daughter of a gentleman in good position, of Ballyshannon, by whom he had six children: Edward, Mary, Everina, Eliza, James, and Charles. Mary, the eldest daughter and second child, was born on April 27, 1759, the birth year of Burns and Schiller, and the last year of George II.'s reign. She passed her childhood, until she was five years old, in the neighbourhood of Epping Forest, but it is doubtful whether she was born there or at Hoxton. Mr. Wollstonecraft followed no profession in particular, although from time to time he dabbled in a variety of pursuits when seized with a desire to make money. He is described as of idle, dissipated habits, and possessed of an ungovernable temper and a restless spirit that urged him to perpetual changes of residence. From Hoxton, where he squandered most of his fortune, he wandered to Essex, and then, among other places, in 1768 to Beverley, in Yorkshire. Later he took up farming at Laugharne in Pembrokeshire, but he at length grew tired of this experiment and returned once more to London. As his fortunes declined, his brutality and selfishness increased, and Mary was frequently compelled to defend her mother from his acts of personal violence, sometimes by thrusting herself bodily between him and his victim. Mrs. Wollstonecraft herself was far from being an amiable woman; a petty tyrant and a stern but incompetent ruler of her household, she treated Mary as the scapegoat of the family. Mary's early years therefore were far from being happy; what little schooling she had was spasmodic, owing to her father's migratory habits.

In her sixteenth year, when the Wollstonecrafts were once more in London, Mary formed a friendship with Fanny Blood, a young girl about her own age, which was destined to be one of the happiest events of her life. There was a strong bond of sympathy between the two friends, for Fanny contrived by her work as an artist to be the chief support of her family, as her father, like Mr. Wollstonecraft, was a lazy, drunken fellow.

Mary's new friend was an intellectual and cultured girl. She loved music, sang agreeably, was well read too, for her age, and wrote interesting letters. It was by comparing Fanny Blood's letters with her own, that Mary first recognised how defective her education had been. She applied herself therefore to the task of increasing her slender stock of knowledge hoping ultimately to become a governess. At length, at the age of nineteen, Mary went to Bath as companion to a tiresome and exacting old lady, a Mrs. Dawson, the widow of a wealthy London tradesman. In spite of many difficulties, she managed to retain her situation for some two years, leaving it only to attend the deathbed of her mother.

Mrs. Wollstonecraft's death (in 1780) was followed by the break up of the home. Mary went to live temporarily with the Bloods at Walham Green, and assisted Mrs... Continue reading book >>




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