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Mary Wollstonecraft   By: (1855-1936)

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First Page:

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

BY

ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL.

BOSTON: ROBERTS BROTHERS. 1890.

Copyright, 1884 , BY ROBERTS BROTHERS.

UNIVERSITY PRESS: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.

PREFACE.

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.

CONTENTS.

Page

INTRODUCTION 1

Chapter

I. CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YOUTH. 1759 1778 12

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

VI. "VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN" 136

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

XII. WILLIAM GODWIN 290

XIII. LIFE WITH GODWIN: MARRIAGE. 1796 1797 314

XIV. LAST MONTHS: DEATH. 1797 340

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

INTRODUCTION.

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... Continue reading book >>




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