In the summer of 1797, William Godwin set out on a tour of the Midlands. He had hoped to visit, among others, Erasmus Darwin, but finding the naturalist away from home, Godwin asked Darwin's wife for a letter of introduction to Robert Bage instead. To his surprise, Mary Darwin said she could not properly provide one since, though Bage was her husband's 'very particular friend', she wasn't sure she had ever set eyes on him. Undeterred, Godwin determined to introduce himself to 'the author of Hermsprong'. Travelling on to Elford, he found the paper-mill Bage had worked for almost four decades, only to be told that he'd moved to Tamworth five years previously. As the mill's owner Bage returned to Elford three times a week, however, and Godwin was assured that if he continued towards Tamworth he would meet him on the road. At last encountering the 69-year-old author, walking book in hand, Godwin got down from his chaise and accompanied him on foot to his house, which he noted to be 'like that of a common farmer in every respect'. Almost thirty years his junior, Godwin found Bage to be a man who had 'thought much' yet remained 'uncommonly cheerful and placid, simple in his manners, and youthful in all his carriage'. It was, Godwin wrote to Mary Wollstonecraft, a 'delightful' day.
LRB 23 October 2003 | PDF Download