William Godwin

On this date in 1756, William Godwin was born in England, the son and grandson of strait-laced Calvinist ministers. Godwin followed in paternal footsteps, becoming a minister by age 22. His reading of atheist d’Holbach and others caused him to lose both his belief in the doctrine of eternal damnation and his ministerial position. Through further reading, Godwin gradually became godless. His Political Justice and The Enquirer (1793) argued for morality without religion and caused a scandal. He followed that philosophical book with a trail-blazing fictional detective story, Caleb Williams (1794). 

He and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, secretly married in 1797. She died tragically after giving birth to their daughter Mary in 1797. Godwin and his second wife Mary Jane opened a bookshop for children and he became a proficient author of children’s books, employing a pseudonym due to his notoriety. Godwin’s life was marked by poverty and further domestic tragedies. He was responsible for a family of five children, none of whom had the same two parents.

Influenced by Coleridge, Godwin became more of a pantheist than an atheist. He died in 1836 at age 80.  (D. 1836)

Freedom From Religion Foundation