Let us imagine for a moment Mr. Godwin's beautiful system of equality realized in its utmost purity, and see how soon this difficulty might be expected to press under so perfect a form of society.... Let us suppose all the causes of misery and vice in this island removed. War and contention cease. Unwholesome trades and manufactories do not exist. Crowds no longer collect together in great and pestilent cities.... Every house is clean, airy, sufficiently roomy, and in a healthy situation.... And the necessary labours of agriculture are shared amicably among all. The number of persons, and the produce of the island, we suppose to be the same as at present. The spirit of benevolence, guided by impartial justice, will divide this produce among all the members of the society according to their wants....With these extraordinary encouragements to population, and every cause of depopulation, as we have supposed, removed, the numbers would necessarily increase faster than in any society that has ever yet been known....
He then acted as a minister at Ware, Stowmarket and Beaconsfield. At Ware the teachings of the French Philosophers were brought before him by a friend, Joseph Fawcett, who held strong republican opinions. Godwin came to London in 1782, still nominally as a minister, to regenerate society with his pen – a real enthusiast, who never shrank from conclusions of the premises which he laid down. He adopted the principles of the Encyclopédistes, and his own aim was the complete overthrow of all existing political, social and religious institutions. He believed, however, that calm discussion was the only thing needful to carry every change, and from the beginning to the end of his career he deprecated every approach to violence. He was a philosophic radical in the strictest sense of the term.
His first published work was an anonymous Life of Lord Chatham (1783). He published under his own name Sketches of History (1784), consisting of six sermons on the characters of Aaron, Hazael and Jesus, in which, though writing in the character of an orthodox Calvinist (Godwin himself was an atheist), his character enunciates the proposition "God Himself has no right to be a tyrant." Introduced by Andrew Kippis, he began to write in 1785 for the New Annual Register and other periodicals, producing also three novels now forgotten. His main contributions for the "Annual Register" were the Sketches of English History he wrote annually, which were yearly summaries of domestic and foreign political affairs. He joined a club called the Revolutionists, and associated much with Lord Stanhope, Horne Tooke and Holcroft.
In 1793, while the French Revolution was in full swing, Godwin published his great work on political science, Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. The first part of this book was largely a recap of Edmund Burke's A Vindication of Natural Society – an anarchist critique of the state. Godwin acknowledged the influence of Burke for this portion. The rest of the book is Godwin's positive vision of how an anarchist (or minarchist) society might work. Political Justice was extremely influential in its time: after the writings of Burke and Paine, Godwin's was the most popular written response to the French Revolution. Godwin's work was seen by many as illuminating a middle way between the fiery extremes of Burke and Paine. Prime Minister william Pitt famously said that there was no need to censor it, because at over £1 it was too costly for the average Briton to buy. However, as was the practice at the time, numerous "corresponding societies" took up Political Justice, either sharing it or having it read to the illiterate members. Eventually, it sold over 4000 copies and brought literary fame to Godwin.
In response to a treason trial of some of his fellow British Jacobins, among them Thomas Holcroft, Godwin wrote Cursory Strictures on the Charge Delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre to the Grand Jury, 2 October 1794 in which he forcefully argued that the prosecution's concept of "constructive treason" allowed a judge to construe any behaviour as treasonous. It paved the way for a major, but mostly moral, victory for the Jacobins, as they were acquitted.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in Somers Town on 31 August 1797, the couple's only child. Godwin had hoped for a son and had been planning on naming the child "William." On 10 September 1797 Wollstonecraft died of complications following the birth. By all accounts, it had been a happy and stable, though brief, relationship. Now Godwin, who had been a bachelor until a few months before, was distraught at the loss of the love of his life. Simultaneously, he became responsible for the care of these two young girls, the newborn Mary and toddler Fanny.
In Political Justice Godwin had acknowledged that an increase in the standard of living as he envisioned could cause population pressures, but he saw an obvious solution to avoiding distress: “project a change in the structure of human action, if not of human nature, specifically the eclipsing of the Desire for sex by the development of intellectual pleasures”. In the 1798 version of his essay, Malthus specifically rejected this possible change in human nature. In the second and subsequent editions, however, he wrote that widespread moral restraint, i.e., postponement of marriage and pre-nuptial celibacy (sexual abstinence), could reduce the tendency of a population to grow until distress was felt.". Godwin also saw new Technology as being partly responsible for the Future change in human nature into more intellectually developed beings. He reasoned that increasing technological advances would lead to a decrease in the amount of time individuals spent on production and labour, and thereby, to more time spent on developing "their intellectual and moral faculties". Instead of population growing exponentially, Godwin believed that this moral improvement would outrun the growth of population. Godwin pictured a social utopia where society would reach a level of sustainability and engage in "voluntary communism".
In his first edition of Political Justice Godwin included arguments favouring the possibility of "earthly immortality" (what would now be called Physical Immortality), but later editions of the book omitted this topic. Although the belief in such a possibility is consistent with his philosophy regarding perfectibility and human progress, he probably dropped the subject because of political expedience when he realised that it might discredit his other views. Godwin explored the themes of life extension and immortality in his gothic novel St. Leon, which became popular (and notorious) at the time of its publication in 1799, but is now mostly forgotten. St. Leon may have provided inspiration for his daughter's novel Frankenstein.
In 1801 Godwin married his neighbour Mary Jane Clairmont. She brought two of her own children into the household, Charles and Claire. Journalist H.N. Brailsford wrote in 1913, "She was a vulgar and worldly woman, thoroughly feminine, and rather inclined to boast of her total ignorance of philosophy." While Fanny eventually learned to live with Clairmont, Mary's relationship with her stepmother was tense. Mary writes, “As to Mrs Godwin, something very analogous to disgust arises whenever I mention her”.
In 1805 the Godwins set up a shop and publishing house called the Juvenile Library, significant in the history of children's literature. Through this, Godwin wrote children's primers on Biblical and classical history, and using the pseudonym Edward Baldwin, he wrote a variety of books for children, including a version of Jack and the Beanstalk, and a biography of the Irish Artist william Mulready, who illustrated works for them. They kept alive family ties, publishing the first book by Margaret King (then Lady Mount Cashell), who had been a favoured pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft. They published works never since out of print, such as Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. The Juvenile Library also translated European authors. The first English edition of Swiss Family Robinson was translated (from the French, not the German) and edited by them. The Business was the family's mainstay for decades.
Godwin, consistent in his theory and stubborn in his practice, practically lived in secret for 30 years because of his reputation. However, in its influence on Writers such as Shelley, who read the work on multiple occasions between 1810 and 1820, and Kropotkin, Political Justice takes its place with Milton's Areopagitica and Rousseau's Émile as a defining anarchist and libertarian text.
In 1820, Godwin published Of Population: An Enquiry Concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind as a rebuttal to Malthus' essays. Godwin's main argument was against Malthus' notion that population tends to grow exponentially. Godwin believed that for population to double every twenty-five years (as Malthus had asserted had occurred in the United States, due to the expanse of resources available there), every married couple would have to have at least eight children, given the rate of childhood deaths. Godwin himself was one of thirteen children, but he did not observe the majority of couples in his day having eight children. He therefore concluded:
In later years, Godwin came to expect maternal support and consolation from his daughter. Two of the five children he had raised had pre-deceased him, and two more lived abroad. Mary responded to his expectations and she cared for him until he died in 1836. He was buried next to Mary Wollstonecraft in the churchyard of St Pancras, where they had married. His second wife outlived him, and eventually was buried there too. The three share a gravestone. In the 1850s, Wollstonecraft and Godwin's remains were moved to Bournemouth, to the family tomb of the Shelleys.
Peter Kropotkin remarked of Godwin that when "speaking of property, he stated that the rights of every one 'to every substance capable of contributing to the benefit of a human being' must be regulated by justice alone: the substance must go ‘to him who most wants it’. His conclusion was communism."
Godwin had high hopes for Mary, giving her a higher intellectual experience than most women of her period, and describing her as "very intelligent." He wished to give his daughter a more "masculine education" and prepared her to be a Writer. However, Godwin withdrew his support as Mary became a woman and pursued her relationship with Percy Shelley. Mary’s first two novels, Frankenstein and Mathilda, may be seen as a reaction to her childhood. Both explore the role of the father in the child's socialisation and the control the father has on the child's Future. Shelley’s last two novels, Lodore and Falkner, re-evaluate the father-daughter relationship. They were written at a time when Shelley was raising her only surviving child alone and supporting her ageing father. In both novels, the daughter eludes the father's control by giving him the traditional maternal figure he asks for. This relationship gives the daughter control of the father.