1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Amelia Opie

Anonymous, in "Mrs. Opie's New Poems" Port Folio [Philadelphia] NS 6 (22 October 1808) 266.



Like her poetical predecessour, Charlotte Smith, Mrs. Opie has indulged herself too liberally in the querulous style. She sits down to her writing-desk with a face most wofully pensive. She begins sullenly, to moan over some fading hope, or over some blasting disappointment. The Canary bird is either dead, the kitten lame, the parrot hoarse, or her lover away. If the scene of description should transport us to the country, the month of November must be chosen, when the leaves are sufficiently withered, and the winds whistle through the wainscot, in a tone at least as whimpering as a modern sonnet, or as a half-starved puppy in winter weather. Darkness, Death, and long Despair, are most tremendously invoked. Hark from the tombs, is the cry; and rueful Rachel, and doleful Dolly close the funeral procession. If the gloomy system will permit the Muse, thus predetermined to be melancholy, to remain pensively at home, without dreaming of a ramble beyond the city gates, then we must begin to think dismally with all our might. We may take occasion, from the watchman's call, or the town-clock, to meditate most mournfully upon the flight of time. The baying of a distant dog, is an exceeding good thing, poetically employed, to depress the spirits; and the bemoaning of the condition of a laborious linkboy has a marvellous effect in driving a reader to distraction. Whether the Almanack serves us or not, we must have many "glimpses" of the "moon," to make "night hideous;" and, at all events, the moon must be melancholy, as must also be some hapless nightingale, her mournful minion, not to mention the owl, for fear of giving offence to authours of fine feeling....

In justice to Mrs. Opie, the production now before us is of a cast less gloomy than that of many of its predecessours. The lady has judiciously parted with some of her ravens. The death-watch only ticks now and then. Crape is not so prodigally worn as heretofore. The mourner is sometimes seen to smile, and the undertaker's men do not deafen us with the dolorous sound of dismal preparation. The first poem in the collection, which is entitled The Warriour's Return, does not, however, prove that Mrs. Opie has wholly relinquished her "customary suit of solemn black." To our great chagrin, the "inky cloak" is still visible. From the "return" of a warriour, we expected to be delighted with all the hilarity of a Marquis of Huntley from the Netherlands, or the gallant Sir Sidney from the field of Acre. But no: our authouress, with perverse ingenuity, contrives that her man of fight should kill his own son, and the story concludes with all imaginable distress.