The Political Institution of Literature

  • Anthony S. Jarrells
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


In critical accounts of Wordsworth’s early or “radical” years a lot of space is devoted to his turn from Godwinian philosophy and toward what David Bromwich has termed a “radical humanity.”2 Comparatively less attention has been paid to the changes in Godwin’s thought in this same period and to what might be described as Godwin’s own turn from abstraction—from Godwinian philosophy. Although he stresses that the revisions to Political Justice in 1795 and 1797 “are not of a fundamental nature”3 it is clear from the content of these revisions and from the other projects Godwin devoted himself to in the second half of the 1790s that a fundamental change was exactly what was being effected. In a document entitled “Principal revolutions of Opinion to which my Mind has been Subjected,” dated March 10, 1800, Godwin lists three major errors to his Political Justice: the first is “stoicism,” or “the inattention to principles of pleasure and pain”; the second is “sandemanianism,” or “the inattention to the principle that feeling, not judgement, is the source of human actions”; and the third is what he describes as “the unqualified condemnation of the private affections.”4 In a schedule of proposed literary projects dated September, 1798, Godwin lists a book “to be entitled First Principles of Morals” which will correct the errors of Political Justice, especially as they relate to “the empire of feeling.”5


Public Sphere Political Institution Political Connection Political Association French Revolution 
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  1. 6.
    See Furniss, Edmund Burke’s Aesthetic Ideology, chapter 10, Siskin, Work of Writing, pp. 14–23, and Paul Keen, The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s. See also TJ. Mathias, The Pursuits of Literature (first published 1794). The fact that Mathias keeps coming back to Godwin attests to the fact that Godwin’s work marked a focal point in the struggle over “Literature.”Google Scholar
  2. 24.
    W.C. Proby, Modern Philosophy and Barbarism, or a Comparison Between the Theory of Godwin and the Practice of Lycurgus (1798).Google Scholar

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© Anthony S. Jarrells 2005

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  • Anthony S. Jarrells

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