Thursday, November 18, 2010

William Godwin's Diary Online

Some exciting news from Oxford, where a nifty new digital resource has just launched. William Godwin's Diary, covering the period 1788-1836, includes both hi-res images of the manuscript diary as well as searchable encoded transcriptions.

The editorial team has pulled together some very handy collections of entry by topic, including Reading (intro), where you can track the (massive number of) books Godwin mentions having read or discussed, Meals, Writing, &c. One aspect of the project I quite like is the biographical database of people mentioned in the diary, which is tremendously useful.

For example, as I've noted in the past I like to check British diaries for this period to see what the writer thought of the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries. This tool makes doing that with Godwin pretty simple: a quick search pulled up Godwin's entry for 15 February 1796 (transcription; page image), where he writes "... Irelands w. Merry ...". Clicking on Merry reveals that Godwin's companion (almost certainly to see the "Shakespeare" documents at Samuel Ireland's) was Robert Merry (1755-1798), a poet/dramatist friend of Godwin's.

Another interesting entry for 2 April 1796 (transcription; page image), the date of the first (and only) performance of William-Henry Ireland's "Shakespeare" play, "Vortigern and Rowena." Godwin writes: "... Theatre, Vortigern; see Ht, Inchbald, A A, Barry, Perry, Kentish & Stoddarte: meet R Johnson, Reveley & ...". The biographical codes link to each of the people mentioned (Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, Amelia (Opie) Alderson, &c.), giving us a coherent picture of the people Godwin encountered (though his wording is just vague enough to leave some question about just where it was that he saw them).

Additional entries from 1796 and 1797 reveal that Godwin was reading some of the Shakespeare Forgery literature: see 7 July 1796, 29 December 1796, and 24 January 1797, where he notes his specific readings of the Irelands' defense, and 16 January and 20 January 1797, where he mentions reading the works of George Chalmers, another defender of the Ireland documents (notably, he doesn't mention reading any of the major works by detractors, including Edmund Malone's Inquiry). And there are some tantalizing other entries, like 15 January and 29 February 1796, where Godwin notes simply "talk of Shakespear."

Not to get too far off track, though (and before I undertake a much more detailed search for Godwin-Ireland material than I intended to) - check out the Godwin diary online; it seems like a terrific resource.

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