January 25 1816: Priorities

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On January 25 1816, a day after the birth of his son William, Percy Shelley writes to the child’s grandfather, William Godwin. Most of the letter is filled with various financial plans. The news about the birth of William comes at the end with the telling preface “… Frances and Mrs. Godwin will probably be glad to hear …” Nevertheless, Shelley proposes to meet Godwin. The meeting does not take place.

BlSHOPGATE, January 25, 1816.

Longdill told me a week ago that he was then going into the country for ten days. Relying on your information, however, I have written to him, requesting that he will immediately see Whitton, inform him of my dissatisfaction on the subject of his delay, and extort some satisfactory answer.

This he was to have done ten days ago. At least until the result of this measure is known to me, I am unwilling to excite suspicions in Longdill that I am in treaty for borrowing money on annuity. The mode of address which you suggest would undoubtedly appear unnatural to me. I might destroy L.’s confidence in the regularity and prudence of my conduct at a time when perhaps the whole success of the affair with my father depends on its preservation.

Hayward, in November, was profuse in his professions both of willingness and ability to procure me money on annuity. If I wanted 1,000 he said that he could readily procure the sum. He knew at that period the uncertainty [of] the negotiations with my father. Perhaps he may believe that the chances are now multiplied against the probability of its accomplishment. At least, it appears you understood and acquiesced in this arrangement. There is nothing remarkable in this foolish mistake but the unskilfulness or unfaithfulness of our interpreters, and it is well that such imperfect intercourse did not, as in many instances it might, have produced more serious errors.

I should come to town willingly on the business of this loan, when it appears that my presence is required. If Hayward eventually refuses to negotiate it for us, then I certainly think some personal discussion is needed. I could perhaps then make clear to you the reasonableness of my reluctance to apply to Longdill. But I shall leave this subject henceforth entirely to your own feelings. Probably my feelings on such an occasion would not be less distressing than your own. So far as those feelings are concerned, I should certainly reluctantly entertain the idea of such an interview. But I would not sacrifice anything essential to the raising of this money to exempt myself from the sensations, however painful, which could not fail to arise on meeting a man, who having been once my friend, would receive me with cold looks and haughty words.

Frances and Mrs. Godwin will probably be glad to hear that Mary has safely recovered from a favourable confinement, and that her child is well.

P. B. SHELLEY.

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