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Unusual SuspectsPitt's Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s$
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Kenneth R. Johnston

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199657803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657803.001.0001

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Before and After Lives

Before and After Lives

John Thelwall and William Godwin

Chapter:
(p.23) 2 Before and After Lives
Source:
Unusual Suspects
Author(s):

Kenneth R. Johnston

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657803.003.0002

John Thelwall and William Godwin are the two highest-profile examples of ‘usual’ and ‘unusual’ suspects from the 1790s. Their lives clearly reveal the phenomenon of bifurcated biography characteristic of persons active in the pamphlet wars of the time, moving from fame to obscurity. Both were involved in the Treason Trials of 1794 and the effects of the Gagging Acts of 1795. They are analogues to the modern political phenomenon of ‘disappeared’ persons. Thelwall retreated from political writing and speaking, seeking relief in poetry, travel writing, and elocutionary lessons. Godwin was the preferred target for ‘hegemonic’ attacks on free-thinking enthusiasm for cultural reformation in Britain; he sought refuge in anonymous publication for nearly fifteen years after the turn of the century. His defense of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life backfired, destroying her reputation for over a century. His attempt to answer Malthus’s Essay on Population—which was originally motivated against Godwin’s perfectibilian theories—was similarly unsuccessful.

Keywords:   John Thelwall, William Godwin, Bifurcated biographies, Treason Trials, Gagging Acts, ‘Disappeared’ persons, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Malthus

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