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Mary Jane Godwin and the Juvenile Library

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Some three years after Wollstonecraft’s death, Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow who came with two children, Charles and Jane (later Claire). Their own son, William, was born in 1803. Godwin continued to write books of all kinds, producing histories, essays, and novels.

In 1805, as a moneymaking venture, Godwin and Mary Jane began a bookshop and publishing business, which was formally established as the Juvenile Library under Mary Jane’s name. Writing under a number of pseudonyms, Godwin produced a series of books for children. His friends also contributed to the enterprise, among them Charles and Mary Lamb, who wrote Tales from Shakespeare (1807), one of the Juvenile Library’s most successful titles. Mary Jane, who, before her marriage to Godwin, had worked as a translator from the French and as an editor of children’s books, also contributed titles to the list, including the instructional Dramas for Children; or, Gentle Reproofs for Their Faults (1817). Although the publishing venture proved successful, Godwin was nevertheless perpetually in and out of debt.

Godwin was in his early fifties when he sat for the portrait painter James Northcote, in July 1801 and May 1802. He considered Northcote’s portrait the “principal memorandum of my corporal existence that will remain after my death.” An acquaintance, William Austin, wrote: “Imagine to yourself a man of short stature, whose ruddy, thoughtful, yet open countenance discovers both the temperature of health and philosophy: of manners remarkably mild, unassuming, rather reserved; in conversation cautious, argumentative, frequently doubtful, yet modestly courting reply, more from a desire of truth, than a love of contending.” Originally issued in 1802, the mezzotint version of the Northcote portrait (seen here) was reissued soon after Godwin’s death, aged 80, in April 1836.