Amelia Alderson [Opie] to Susannah Taylor

[August 26,] 17941

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Tuesday — 1794 —

My dear Mrs. Taylor,

At length I have found an opportunity of writing to you at my leisure, but now, tho’ I have begun with the resolution of being very grave and very sentimental, I feel such an inclination to run into plain matters of fact, and narration, that I shall beg leave to content myself with a recital of the events of my journey to Town yesterday; requesting at the same time a recital of the events of your life, since I saw you, in return, we will leave gravity, and sentiment to be the order of the evening when we resume our Wednesday tête a têtes, and rejoice in the absence of husband, and Father —

Mr. J: Boddington and I set off for Town yesterday, by way of Islington, that we might pay our first visit to Godwin at Somers Town — 2 After a most delightful ride thro’ some of the richest country I ever beheld, we arrived at about 1 o'clock at the Philosopher’s house, whom we found with his hair bien poudré, and in a pair of new, sharp toe,red morocco slippers, not to mention his green coat and crimson underwaistcoat — He received me very kindly, but wondered I should think of being out of London! — could I be either amused or instructed at Southgate? How did I pass my time? What were my pursuits? and a great deal more, which frightened my protector, and tired me — till at last I told him, I had not yet outlived my affections, that they bound me to the family at Southgate — “But was I to acknowledge any other dominion than that of Reason?" "But are you sure that my affections in this case are not the result of Reason?" He shrugged disbelief and after debating some time, he told me I was more of the woman than when he saw me last — Rarely did we agree, and little did he gain on me by his mode of attack, but he seemed alarmed lest he should have offended me, and apologized several times, with much feeling for the harshness of his expressions — In short, he convinced me that his theory has not yet gotten entire ascendancy over his practice — He has promised to come over to spend a day at Southgate when I shall pit rational belief in Mr. M: against Atheism in Mr. Godwin — Mr. B: was disgusted with his manner, tho’ charmed with that of Barry whom we called on last week — Godwin told me he had talked of me to Mrs. Inchbald, that she recollected me, and wished to see me, so I determined to call on her — after I had paid my visit to Mrs. Siddons — From Godwin's, we proceeded to Ives Hurry's in the City, where we left our chair and horses, and proceeded in a coach to Mrs. Beetham's, to have my profile taken, and thence we drove to Marlborough Street — I found Mrs. Siddons engaged in the very act of suckling her little baby, and as handsome, and charming as ever — She played last Wednesday before her month was up, and is now confined to her room with the cold she caught behind the scenes — There too, I saw Charles Kemble, as I passed thro’ his sister's dressing room, and thought him so like Kemble, Mrs. Twiss, and Mrs. Siddons, that it was some time before I could recollect myself enough to know whether he was a man or a woman — Sally and Maria tell my Father, are quite well, and inquired much concerning him — the baby is all a baby can be, but Mrs. S: laughs, and says it is a wit and a beauty already in her eyes — she leaves town to-day, or she would have invited me for a longer visit. 3

From Marlborough Street (àpropos Mrs. Maltz is in the country) we drove to Mrs. Inchbald's who is as pretty as ever, and much more easy and unreserved in her manner than when I last saw her with her we passed an hour as if it had been but one minute, and when I took my leave, she begged I would call on her again — She is in charming lodgings, and has just received two hundred pounds from Sheridan, for a farce containing sixty pages only — — From her house we drove into the city — you will wonder, perhaps, where we dined — Be it known unto you then that we never dine when we visit London — Ives Hurry as soon as we arrive at his house always treats us with as much ice and biscuits as we can eat — we then sally forth, and eat ice again when we want it — so we did yesterday, and Mrs. Siddons' roast beef had no temptations for us — as we returned to Ives Hurry’s, we went to Daniel Isaac Eaton's shop4 we had scarcely entered it, when a very genteel looking young man came in — he examined us, and we him, and suspicion being the order of the day, I dared not talk to Mrs. Eaton, till the stranger was engaged in conversation with Boddington — I then told her that curiosity led me to her shop, and that I came from that city of sedition, Norwich — Her eyes sparkled, and she asked me if I knew Charles Marsh? — “you come from Norwich, cried the stranger, allow me to ask you some questions then and etc., he put questions, I answered them, and in a short time Mr. J: B: and myself were both so charmed with his manners, and conversation, that we almost fancied we had known him before — we saw that he was intimate with Mrs. Eaton and her sweet girl, and seemed to be as much at home in the shop as the counter itself, so we had no fears of him — at last we became so fraternized, that Mrs. Eaton shut the shop door, and gave us chairs — I will not relate the information I heard, but I could have talked with him all night — "Well, but who was he?" Have patience, and you shall hear. — Finding that he was just returned from Scotland, and was “au fait” of all the proceedings there, and that his connexions were those of high life, I asked where Lord Daer was, and lamented that he was not one of the arrested members — He smiled, and said that Lord D: wanted nerve then, and fortitude to resist the anxieties of his Mother and sisters, the most accomplished women in England — That the very day of the arrest he had received a letter from Lord Daer, promising to be with them if possible, and in the evening, another note to say Lady Selkirk was ill, and that he could not leave her — "Indeed! I thought he bailed you said Mrs. Eaton — "Oh! no replied the other — Mr. B: and I looked at each other, wondering who "you" was — but I began to suspect, and went on questioning him — he said, they dared not hurt Lord D: that they dared not attack any man of connections and estate in Scotland — that had he himself been condemned, and sent to Botany Bay, his connections would have risen to a man — I ventured to say, that how ever amiable Lord D's family might be, he ought to have disregarded their influence for who so ever loves Father or Mother etc.5 He replied that I was quite right, and that he himself had disregarded them — that democratic women were rare, and that he heartily wished he could introduce me to two charming patriots at Edinburgh — who were tho’ women, up to circumstances — that he rejoiced to learn from Merry, that Mrs. Merry, was so firm, and a great deal more, that raised my curiosity to a most painful height — at last, having said that he had laid it down as a rule for his conduct, that a Patriot should be without the hope of living, or the fear of dying, he took his leave, leaving our minds elevated and delighted — Mrs. Eaton told us it was Mr. Sinclair, Sir John's Nephew he who was tried, and acquitted — He says Lord Daer is supposed to be dying, and he himself looks in bad health, but his countenance is fine, and his manners elegant — "What think you of Mr. Windham?" said I, O the poor creature is out of his element — he might have done very well for a college disputant or a Greek professor, perhaps, but that's all” — Why do the Norwich Patriots espouse Mingay? what can they expect? said he — He might be a very good implement of resentment against Windham, but, tho’ the friend of their necessity, not of their choice.6 "Is he not right?"7


1. For permission to publish the text of manuscript in their possession, the editor would like to thank The New York Public Library's Berg Collection. It is partially transcribed in Cecilia Brightwell’s Memorials of the life of Amelia Alderson Opie, selected and arranged from her letters, diaries, and other manuscripts (Fletcher and Alexander, 1854, pp. 41-45) where it is given a header of "Tuesday 1794". Using internal evidence and cross-referencing with the calendar employed by William Godwin's Diary, I have given the letter a more precise date. Godwin notes that he received a call from Amelia Alderson and John Boddington on Tuesday, August 26th. Although there is no address fold, it is clear from internal evidence that Opie is writing the letter from Southgate, a suburb of London and sending it to Taylor in Norwich. Unfortunately, the manuscript letter breaks off abruptly and is incomplete. Topics in this letter: Anecdotes of the Famous, Elections, Friendship, Social Engagements, and Travel in Britain.

2. Amelia Alderson first met William Godwin in June of 1794, when he traveled into Norfolk to visit Robert Merry, a radical poet, playwright and orator. Norwich progressives, including Amelia’s father, James Alderson, enthusiastically embraced Godwin, who had just published Things as They Are; or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794). For many years, critics speculated about the romantic nature of Amelia’s relationship with Godwin and this letter provides the best evidence of the complex nature of their relationship, which moves between the serious and the flirtatious. It also makes clear, however, that Amelia’s primary interest was in Godwin as a mentor. For discussions of this letter, see Roxanne Eberle (“Amelia and John Opie: Conjugal Sociability and Romanticism’s Professional Arts,” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 53, no. 3, 2014, pp. 319-341; Harriet Guest (“Amelia Alderson Opie: Sociability and Politics,” Bodleian Library Record, vol. 1, 2011, pp. 44-50); and Jon Mee (Conversable Worlds, Oxford University Press, 2011) .

3. It seems likely that Amelia Alderson first met the famed actress Sarah Kemble Siddons and the rest of the Kemble family when they were living in Norwich and performing at the Royal Theater. The degree of intimacy between the Aldersons and the extended Kemble family is suggested by Amelia taking particular note of the greetings offered to her father by Siddons’s oldest daughters, Sally and Maria, who were then in their teens. Amelia was closest to Frances Kemble, Siddons’s younger sister, who only acted for a very short period of time before marrying Francis Twiss, a theater critic, songwriter, and Shakespearean. John Opie painted a portrait of Frances Kemble Twiss for Amelia, which was the subject of one of her earliest poems, “Lines Addressed by Mrs. Opie to her Husband, on his painting the Picture of her friend, Mrs. Twiss, by her request,” (European Magazine, vol. 35, 1799, p. 408) .

4. Daniel Isaac Eaton’s print shop was a gathering place for London radicals. A well-known critic of the Pitt government, Eaton was arrested twice in 1793 for writing and printing political pamphlets. Prosecuted for seditious libel, he was acquitted by the jury on both occasions. In this letter, Amelia describes meeting Charles Sinclair, who had represented the Society for Constitutional Information at the British Convention held in Edinburgh in the fall of 1793. The British Convention, which was modeled in part upon the French National Convention, attracted the attention of the government and many of its leaders were arrested. Another delegate, Joseph Gerrald, who is also alluded to in this letter, was arrested and prosecuted; indeed, Gerrald was imprisoned in a hulk when Amelia wrote this letter and transported to Australia shortly afterwards. Sinclair was arrested but released, perhaps due to his connections to the Scottish aristocracy, including Lord Daer, the fourth Earl of Selkirk. Some historians have argued that Sinclair was not prosecuted because he turned King’s evidence but others, including John Barrell, reject this argument. If Sinclair was suspected initially, he quickly regained the trust of London radicals. (See John Barrell, Imagining the King’s Death, Oxford University Press, 2000). Godwin’s diary notes that he met Amelia, Ives Hurry, and Charles Sinclair on September 30, 1794, during one of his frequent visits to Gerrald while he was imprisoned.

5. Alderson paraphrases a verse from Matthew 10:37 here but substitutes commitment to radical principles for Christian doctrine.

6. James Mingay, a Norfolk lawyer and politician, stood unsuccessfully against William Windham for parliament in 1795. Windham had been a progressive Whig but by 1794 had aligned himself with Edmund Burke, thus alienating many of Norwich’s more radical citizens, including Amelia and her father. Windham was Secretary of War in August of 1794 and remained so until 1801.

7. The letter breaks off in manuscript as well as in Brightwell's partial transcription.