William Godwin's Diary


Godwin kept fastidious diary records of his personal health problems, concerns, and moments of wellbeing. He maintained discretion when recording some of the more sensitive aspects of his health, generally referring to these issues in Latin or French. Godwin has been diagnosed, at various times, as suffering from haemorrhoids and constipation, and might have also had a form of rectal cancer (see St Clair). Another frequent issue is his ‘delerium’ or ‘deliquium’, which has been described by St Clair as fits sometimes accompanied by vomiting. Latin and French words have been translated, and we have attempted to indicate using context or various sources what Godwin might have meant by some of the health phrases he utilised. Self-explanatory health issues such as ‘fever’ or ‘constipation’ have not been annotated, nor have conjectures been made about ambiguous or uncertain symptoms or treatments such as ‘syringe’ - noted on the ninth and tenth of November, 1792 - to cite one such example. NOTE: When searching for health complaints, keep in mind that Godwin often used his own sui generis methods of spelling – for example, ‘headache’ is sometimes noted as ‘head ach’ or ‘head-ach’ and sometimes ailments have been abbreviated (such as ‘constip’ for constipation’).

Leeches: Bleeding was one of the less successful remedies that Godwin tried. Leeches had been used medicinally since at least 200BC, when the Greek physician Nicander made use of them. Leech therapy (or Hirudotherapy) was popularized by Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine (C.1020) and became popular in medieval Europe. Medieval doctors were known as leeches. Hirudo medicinals, the common medicinal leech, produces anti-coagulants and anesthetics in its saliva, and leeches tend to be used for bloodletting in confined or sensitive bodily areas in a minority of cases. Leeches became popular in the nineteenth century leading to many species becoming endangered in Europe. George Horn’s An Entire Treatise on Leeches (London, 1798) was an attempt to popularize the medicinal use of leeches, so Godwin’s use of them indicated either modish medical treatment or the necessity to let blood in a sensitive or confined space.