William Godwin's Diary


John Thelwall resumed his political lectures on 6 February 1795 after being arrested, imprisoned and finally acquitted in the Treason Trials of the previous year. The audiences for his Wednesday and Friday lectures often exceeded the 700 capacity of the hall at No. 2 Beaufort Buildings in the Strand, where he had taken a set of private appartments together with a lecture hall, and they reached an even wider audience through publication in his periodical The Tribune. This was the final lecture of the season, in which Thelwall announced that he was stopping his lectures to seek the ‘long lost pleasures of the rural scene’ and recover his health after his imprisonment in ‘that noxious dungeon’ of Newgate. Godwin heard him insist that his lectures are ‘a theatre of instruction; not a theatre of mischievous inflammation’ and that his decision in prison to withdraw from the popular reform societies ensured that ‘unconnected with any projects or associations, and adhering to the cause of truth, I stand upon a rock which they cannot shake’. He was ‘conscious of moral mischiefs’ that lecturing before packed halls may sometimes have seduced him into, including occasions when he had allowed ‘passion to snatch the reins from reason’ (see The Tribune, I, pp. 329-337). However, his display of contrition for these past faults and pledges of future ‘moderation’ were clearly not enough to placate Godwin, and the latter’s Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr. Pitt’s Bills (1795) directly attacks the tendency of Thelwall’s lectures to inflame the passions of his audience. Considerations was published anonymously but Thelwall realised it was by Godwin and their friendship never completely recovered. In The Tribune, Thelwall recalls the ‘frequent friendly conversations’ in which Godwin had ‘endeavoured to dissuade me from continuing my Lectures’ but deplores ‘the malignancy of a public attack’ (see The Tribune, II, pp. vii-viii).

See John Thelwall, The Tribune (London, 1794-6); 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. xxiv-xxx.