1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Amelia Opie

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:278-79; 2:560.



In 1802, MRS. AMELIA OPIE, whose pathetic and interesting Tales are so justly distinguished, published a volume of miscellaneous poems, characterised by a simple and placid tenderness. Her Orphan Boy is one of those touching domestic effusions which at once finds its way to the hearts of all....

MRS. AMELIA OPIE (Miss Alderson of Norwich), the widow of John Opie, the celebrated artist, commenced her literary career in 1801, when she published her domestic and pathetic tale of The Father and Daughter. Without venturing out of ordinary life, Mrs. Opie invested her narrative with deep interest, by her genuine painting of nature and passion, her animated dialogue, and feminine delicacy of feeling. Her first novel has gone through eight editions, and is still popular. A long series of works of fiction has since proceeded from the pen of this lady. Her Simple Tales, in four volumes, 1806; New Tales, four volumes, 1818; Temper, or Domestic Scenes, a tale, in three volumes; Tales of Real Life, three volumes; Tales of the Heart, four volumes; are all marked by the same characteristics — the portraiture of domestic life, drawn with a view to regulate the heart and affections. In 1828 Mrs. Opie published a moral treatise, entitled Detraction Displayed, in order to expose that "most common of all vices," which she says justly is found "in every class or rank in society, from the peer to the peasant, from the master to the valet, from the mistress to the maid, from the most learned to the most ignorant, from the man of genius to the meanest capacity." The tales of this lady have been thrown into the shade by the brilliant fictions of Scott, the stronger moral delineations of Miss Edgesvorth, and the generally masculine character of our more modern literature. She is, like Mackenzie, too uniformly pathetic and tender. "She can do nothing well," says Jeffrey, "that requires to be done with formality, and therefore has not succeeded in copying either the concentrated force of weighty and deliberate reason, or the severe and solemn dignity of majestic virtue. To make amends, however, she represents admirably everything that is amiable, generous, and gentle." Perhaps we should add to this the power of exciting and harrowing up the feelings in no ordinary degree. Some of her short tales are full of gloomy and terrific painting, alternately resembling those of Godwin and Mrs. Radcliffe.

To Miss Sedgwick's Letters from Abroad (1841), we find the following notice of the venerable novelist: — "I owed Mrs Opie a grudge for having made me in my youth cry my eyes out over her stories; but her fair cheerful face forced me to forget it. She long ago forswore the world and its vanities, and adopted the Quaker faith and costume; but I fancied that her elaborate simplicity, and the fashionable little train to her pretty satin gown, indicated how much easier it is to adopt a theory than to change one's habits."