This essay offers a reassessment of William Godwin's political engagement in the mid to late 1790s and the implications of this activity for his participation in the public sphere in the nineteenth century. It considers his membership of the Philomaths, a debating society that he joined in the 1790s, and suggests that his participation in the deliberative and rational exchange of the society influenced Caleb Williams (1794). The formation, activities, and membership of the Philomaths are discussed, with John Thelwall's involvement and his dispute with Godwin receiving particular attention. Godwin's engagement with and subsequent withdrawal from the Philomaths allows us to read his intellectual trajectory in a more positive fashion than has previously been the case, as he moves toward a more inclusive conception of the Habermasian public sphere. Such a move is consistent with the broader sociability that can now be mapped in his diary and the shift in emphasis in his writing activities, for example, his engagement with the theater.
- © 2012 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/rights.htm.