Yes, our Aaron Burr. He’d come, among other things, to see little Mary.
Little Mary, in fact, was quite an attraction for the literati and the cognoscenti in her earliest years—especially the left-leaning ones. The daughter of two of the great minds of the era—Godwin, Wollstonecraft. What marvels would this child one day perform? (Quite a few, as we have subsequently learned.)
Burr—the former Vice-President of the United States, having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel (1804), having escaped a treason charge (1807)—was now in Europe getting involved in various enterprises, none of which panned out, and he was financially destitute. The Godwin family, despite their own dire financial straits, welcomed him, however. Mary’s biographer Miranda Seymour writes, 41 Skinner Street was a haven of kindness and hospitality. Burr’s diary mentions many visits to the Godwins’, and he grew very fond of them—and they of him. But by 1812, Burr was back in the United States to play out the final scenes of his remarkable life. And the Godwins were trying to make a go of their book business.
To make his children’s bookshop flourish, Godwin knew that he could not publish his books under his own name. England had veered to the right, and many in the reading public now considered him dangerously liberal—if not treasonous. And, of course, there was that scandalous volume he’d published about his late wife. But Godwin carried on, employing some pseudonyms in his books for the young.
His first book—the author named as “Edward Baldwin”—was Fables, Ancient and Modern, published in 1805 (when little Mary was about eight). Here’s a brief excerpt from my journal, March 30, 1998: to Saywell’s [local drugstore and coffee shop, now gone, sadly] to begin reading Godwin’s Fables Ancient and Modern, a volume for children he wrote under the pseudonym Edward Baldwin; interesting; I borrowed it from OhioLink, and it is seriously overdue, not something I like to do; sent e-mail to Hiram to see if I can renew the thing….
Apparently, I didn’t have much trouble, for I continued reading the entire volume, finishing it on April 2, 1998. Looking for my notes today (January 26, 2015), I discover that I’d typed them on 4x6 index cards. I’ve got quite an impressive little stack of them. I always used a blue card for the bibliography card, white for the notes (oh, how OCD I could be!). I have a single card for each of the fables Godwin rewrote. Here’s the card for “The Eagle and the Crow”:
A crow, observing an eagle carrying away a lamb, decides to emulate his great relative. He lands on a ram and tries to carry it away: “He might as well have thought to fly away with the city of London.” The shepherd disentangles the crow, clips his wings, and “turned him into the garden for the amusement of his children.”