William Godwin's Diary


Dr Lister was Godwin’s long-time physician. ‘Begin Domestic’ could well be referring to an at-home treatment. Lister has been difficult to identify, as there is a ‘Lister’ who appears simultaneously, but in Godwin’s radical circles. In 1784 a Dr Lister gave medical lectures with Dr Saunders at Guy’s Hospital (see Public Advertiser, 31 May 1784). A Dr Lister is also noted at an address in Mark Lane in an advertisement soliciting funds to enable the Physical Society to purchase a permanent meeting place in Edinburgh (Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 17 July 1784). Diary, or Woodfall’s Register (2 March 1791) includes an advertisement soliciting votes for W. Woodville to take up the place of ‘Physician to the Small-Pox Hospitals’ recently resigned by Dr Lister.

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’).