1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Amelia Opie

Sarah Josepha Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women (1852; 1855) 456.



AMELIA OPIE was born in Norwich, England, in 1769. Her father was Dr. Alderson, a distinguished physician. She evinced her talents at a very early age, but published very little before her marriage, which took place in 1798, when she espoused Mr. Opie, the celebrated portrait-painter. In 1801, she wrote "The Father and Daughter," which went through many editions, and is still popular. In 1802, she wrote a volume of poems; and afterwards, "Adeline Mowbray, or the Mother and Daughter," "Simple Tales," "Dangers of Coquetry," and "Warrior's Return, and other Poems." Her husband died in 1808; after which, she published his lectures, with a memoir of his life, and a novel called "Temper, or Domestic Scenes." Mrs. Opie was a pleasing poetess; many of her songs attained great popularity, though now nearly forgotten. She joined the Quakers or Friends, and withdrew partially from society, after 1826; but visiting Paris, she was induced to fix her residence in that gay city. Miss Sedgwick, in her "Letters from Abroad," published in 1841, thus notices Mrs. Opie, whom she met in Paris:

"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."

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 Edgeworth, 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 every thing 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. Mrs. Opie died in 1853, aged eighty-five years.