William Godwin's Diary


At a time when the authorities seemed more likely to tolerate political lectures than debating societies, John Thelwall drew up a plan ‘to give a course of political lectures every Wednesday and Friday’ (see Political Lectures, p. ix). He began lecturing in November 1793 to audiences of between sixty and seventy, continuing his series for the next three months and giving some of the profits to the London Corresponding Society. During this time, the authorities frequently tried to disrupt his lectures, infiltrating them with loyalist agent provocateurs, and on one occasion hiding Bow Street runners armed with bludgeons in an adjoining room, poised to invade the lecture and arrest Thelwall as soon as they heard anything seditious. The intimidation faced by tavern-keepers who hired him rooms forced Thelwall to change his venue from the Minories to the Borough and then to No. 3 New Compton-street, Soho. This is one of only two occasions that Godwin records hearing Thelwall lecture and is likely to have been at New Compton-street.

See John Thelwall, Political Lectures (No. 1.) (London, 1794); Cecil Thelwall, The Life of John Thelwall, by his Widow (London, 1837); Charles Cestre, John Thelwall (London, 1906); DNB and The Politics of English Jacobinism: Writings of John Thelwall, ed. by Gregory Claeys (Pennsylvania: Penn. State University Press, 1995), pp. xviii-xxi.