Godwin, William (1756-1836), author of Political Justice, was born at Wisbeach, being the seventh child of a Nonconformist minister. He was educated in Norfolk, whither his father had moved, but in 1773 came to London and entered Hoxton Academy. He next became a preacher, and held strong Calvinist views for some years. In 1783 he finally settled in London and engaged in literary work. While writing Political Justice he became an atheist, but afterwards professed belief in a vague Theism. The work was very successful, and had much influence on the young men of the day. Godwin was in general sympathy with the most advanced Whigs, and 'was intimate with Paine, Holcroft, and Horne-Tooke. He refused, however, to be a party hack; and Mackintosh, Dr. Parr, and others, who agreed with his politics, attacked his social views. These were further expounded in Caleb Williams, a novel (1794), which had some merit of style. Godwin first married in 1796 Mary Wollstonecraft (or Imlay), but lost her within a few months. In 1801 he married a Mrs. Clairmont, and supported not only his children by her and his first wife, but also their children by former husbands. In 1799 he published St. Leon, another novel, which had some success, and about this time had a controversy with Malthus (q.v.). In 1805 he and his wife set up a publishing business; but, in spite of the help of Lamb and others and the sums given or lent him by Shelley and Wedgwood, he never earned much more than a competence until in 1833 he obtained a sinecure from the Whig Government. The chief work published by him in his later years was a
History of the Commonwealth, in the composition of which the pamphlets in the British Museum were first utilised. As a dramatist Godwin failed signally, but obtained some success as a writer (under a pseudonym) of Fables for children.