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Mary W. Shelley
by [?]

And so you see we do not know much about other people, after all. But Mary Wollstonecraft pushed the question of woman’s freedom to its farthest limit; I told you that she exhausted the subject. She prophesied a day when woman would have economic freedom–that is, be allowed to work at any craft or trade for which her genius fitted her and receive a proper recompense. Woman would also have social freedom: the right to come and go alone–the privilege of walking upon the street without the company of a man–the right to study and observe. Next, woman would have political freedom: the right to record her choice in matters of lawmaking. And last, she would yet have sex freedom: the right to bestow her love without prying police and blundering law interfering in the delicate relations of married life.

To make herself understood. Mary Wollstonecraft explained that society was tainted with the thought that sex was unclean; but she held high the ideal that this would yet pass away, and that the idea of holding one’s mate by statute law would become abhorrent to all good men and women. She declared that the assumption that law could join a man and a woman in holy wedlock was preposterous, and that the caging of one person by another for a lifetime was essentially barbaric. Only the love that is free and spontaneous and that holds its own by the purity, the sweetness, the tenderness and the gentleness of its life is divine. And further, she declared it her belief that when a man had found his true mate such a union would be for life–it could not be otherwise. And the man holding his mate by the excellence that was in him, instead of by the aid of the law, would be placed, loverlike, on his good behavior, and be a stronger and manlier being. Such a union, freed from the petty, spying and tyrannical restraints of present usage, must come ere the race could far advance.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s book created a sensation. It was widely read and hotly denounced. A few upheld it: among these was William Godwin. But the air was so full of taunt and threat that Miss Wollstonecraft thought best to leave England for a time. She journeyed to Paris, and there wrote and translated for certain English publishers. In Paris she met Gilbert Imlay, an American, seemingly of very much the same temperament as herself. She was thirty-six, he was somewhat younger. They began housekeeping on the ideal basis. In a year a daughter was born to them. When this baby was three months old, Imlay disappeared, leaving Mary penniless and friendless.

It was a terrible blow to this trusting and gentle woman. But after a good cry or two, philosophy came to her rescue and she decided that to be deserted by a man who did not love her was really not so bad as to be tied to him for life. She earned a little money and in a short time started back for England with her babe and scanty luggage–sorrowful, yet brave and unsubdued. She might have left her babe behind, but she scorned the thought. She would be honest and conceal nothing. Right must win.

Now, I am told that an unmarried woman with a babe at her breast is not received in England into the best society. The tale of Mary’s misfortune had preceded her, and literary London laughed a hoarse, guttural guffaw, and society tittered to think how this woman who had written so smartly had tried some of her own medicine and found it bitter. Publishers no longer wanted her work, old friends failed to recognize her, and one man to whom she applied for work brought a rebuke upon his head, that lasted him for years.

Godwin, philosopher, idealist, enthusiast and reformer, who made it his rule to seek out those in trouble, found her and told a needless lie by declaring he had been commissioned by a certain nameless publisher to get her to write certain articles about this and that. Then he emptied his pockets of all the small change he had, as an advance payment, and he hadn’t very much, and started out to find the publisher who would buy the prospective “hot stuff.” Fortunately he succeeded.