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A Letter to the Women of England, Edited by Adriana Craciun, Anna Irmen Close, Megan Musgrave, and Orianne Smith

from Mary Robinson to William Godwin
May 30, 1800

[Editorial note on this letter]

Friday, 30th May 1800.

--The fact is simply this, were I to resist the action as a married woman, I might set it aside, and recover damages from my persecutor, because the arrest is for necessaries, and my husband is therefore by law obliged to pay the debt, there being no kind of legal separation between us. But then, I should involve that husband, and act, as I should feel, dishonestly towards my creditors. I therefore submit patiently. I have had various proposals from many friends to settle the business, but I am too proud to borrow, while the arrears now due on my annuity from the Prince of Wales would doubly pay the sum for which I am arrested. I have written to the Prince, and his answer is that there is no money at Carlton House-- that he is very sorry for my situation, but that his own is equally distressing!! You will smile at such paltry excuses, as I do. But I am determined to persist in my demand, half a year's annuity being really due, which is two hundred and fifty pounds, and I am in custody for sixty-tbree pounds only! So circumstanced I will neither borrow, beg, nor steal. I owe very little in the world, and still less to the world, and it is unimportant to me where I pass my days, if I possess the esteem and friendship of its best ornaments, among which I consider you,-- Most sincerely, I am, dear Sir, your obliged and humble servant,


Editorial Note: Robinson and Godwin met through the Della Cruscan poet Robert Merry in 1796, and Robinson and Wollstonecraft became acquainted through Godwin. Godwin recalled, "I was also introduced about this time [1796] by Merry, the poet, to a most accomplished and delightful woman, the celebrated Mrs. Robinson" (Paul, William Godwin, vol. 1, p.154). When Robinson wrote this letter in May 1800, she was in prison for debt. She died December 26, 1800, and Godwin was one of two literary friends (along with Peter Pindar) to attend her funeral. The text of this letter is taken from Kegan Paul's William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 2 vols (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1876) vol.2, p. 34-35.

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May 1998