1868 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Amelia Opie

Emily Taylor, in Memories of Contemporary Poets; with Selections from their Writings (1868) 87-88.



I have limited myself, unwillingly, to a very small selection from the poems of Amelia Opie. In no case perhaps have I felt so strongly that the writings of a deceased friend convey no adequate impression of her mind. Mrs. Opie was a woman whom everybody loved and most admired. She had stores of pleasant information, which she retailed with wit and good sense; — her graver converse, as she advanced in life, is remembered with reverence by those who were admitted to her intimacy. It is recorded of Mrs. Inchbald, that on making Mrs. Opie's acquaintance, she (Mrs. Inchbald) exclaimed after a short conversation, "You're cleverer than your books!" It was most true. Mrs. Opie was rapid, careless, often superficial; and, if we were to judge her by her novels and tales, we might say that any present reading of them would leave a poor impression of their author's power. Yet she sometimes constructed and developed a plot extremely well; and there were some social points upon which she was really STRONG. She was a good observer; and her remarks on matters of conduct and principle were sometimes delivered with wisdom and even with weight.

She possessed the blessing of a remarkably fine temper herself; and having been brought into contact with many persons who marred their own and others' happiness by the indulgence of caprice, she spoke on this subject with real force, as anyone who has read her "Odd-tempered Man" will allow.

Her POEMS are, however, here the subject with which I am principally concerned. But I am sorry to say, I believe many of her best lyrics never saw, and probably never will see, the light. Those to whom some years before her decease she exhibited specimens from her portfolio have said that her MS. songs far surpassed any she had published; but when once she had decided that such a line of publication was inconsistent with her religions profession and garb, she renounced it, together with the exercise of her vocal powers. Her speaking voice was most musical, and I remember few things with greater delight than her tete-a-tete repetitions of beautiful poetry. Mrs. Opie died, honoured, beloved, and regretted, at Norwich, in 1853.

The first specimen ["Song"] given here is a song which the Rev. Sydney Smith selected with warm encomium as an illustration of one of his lectures at the Royal Institution. The second ["Song"] is my own favourite. The third ["Prayer for the Wanderers"] presents her before us in her later and more serious vein. Last of all, is a piece ["The Parents' Chant of Thanksgiving"] taken from the author's latest volume, published in 1834, the "Lays of the Dead;" it commemorates the death of one out of two beloved surviving children of a valued friend.