Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

[Sunday Evening], 18011

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Sunday Evening

My dear friend,

The only paper I can find, consists of two half sheets, comme vous voyez, but no matter. I will not, for appearance sake, baulk my inclination to write to you. — I remember when Susan had the scarletina I wrote to you, while I was the solitary inmate of Mr. Boddington's house in Marsh Lane, and now that another of yr family has that disorder, here I am pen in hand again — My father's letter to day says nothing more on the subject of yr child's illness (which child it is I do not know,) therefore I conclude he, or she is better — a conclusion I shall impart to Richard tomorrow; for I was so foolish as not only to tell him your journey was likely to be delayed, but also to tell him the cause — 2 His increas’d colour, and his ever and anon recurring to the subject, convinced me I had occasioned him a good degree of anxiety greater than the occasion warranted, but which it would have been unlike Richard not to feel — and I have been angry with myself ever since. — Richard and I have so much business to talk over in our tête à têtes now, that I forgot to ask him, when I called on him last, what judgment he had as yet been able to form of his partner's bride — You have no doubt had yr anxieties on this subject, and Mr. Opie, and I have talked about it, and we feared, and regretted — But (whether justly, or not I cannot pretend to say,) I lost all fear of her injuring my friend Richard's comfort, when I saw the lady — 3 The Servant as usual, introduced me into the dining room; where I found myself an intruder on busy notability — A lady who, by her welcoming me, and begging me to sit down, I found to be Mrs. Wilks, was in the act of unpacking a box which she told me was full of china and her long sleeves were turned up half way of her arm, and displayed a fat red hand and wrist, yielding in plumpness, and carnation to her face only — But she seemed incapable of being disturbed, even by the entrance of a stranger, and making a simple and short apology for the bustle she was in, with great good humour, and composure she seated herself, and began to converse — Bless me! how some brides would have flustered, and looked at their dress, and fussed about! — I was prejudiced in her favour by this her contrary conduct instantly — and her countenance was good humoured, and her manner hearty — I told her, as I had business to transact with Richard, I should go with him into his office, but she was very desirous of having a fire lighted on purpose for us in the parlour — but to this we would not consent — however it was a civil friendly offer, and the impression her appearance and manner made on me was certainly in favor of her adding to the general comfort of Richard and Mr. Wilks; for, where a good tempered, active, accommodating woman is at the head of the family, the comfort of the male part of that family must be increased — but I need not tell you this — — I am very sorry that Mrs. Jordan and the Duke of Clarence have hitherto managed their matters so ill as always to disappoint you; but as it does not take one longer to produce a royal puppy than any other the lady is about again, but, from pecuniary disputes with the manager probably is as yet invisible to the public — However, by the time you come I hope she will be on the boards again. — I believe you were very right in what you said to me, about the good arising from my having delayed publishing my juvenile pieces; but some of those things which have now gained me reputation are juvenile pieces — written years ago — — however — I am contented that I have till now, lived unconscious of the anxieties of an author. — I wish I was launched! As usual all the good I saw in my work before it was printed, is now vanish’d from my sight, and I remember only its faults — All the authors of both sexes, and artists too, that are not too ignorant or full of conceit to be capable of alarm, tell me they have had the same judgment feeling when about to receive judgment from the publick — Besides — whatever I read appears to me so superior to my own productions, that I am in a state of most unenviable humility — Mr. Opie has no patience with me but he consoles me by averring that fear makes me overrate others, and underrate myself — I have had a very charming, and kind letter from Catherine Clarkson — the letter of a happy woman — of one every day more attached to the country and its pleasures — In May they expect to be in the neighborhood of London — She desires to be particularly remembered to you — Yesterday's post brought me a letter from Mr. Garnham, and Mr. Llofft to both of whom I wrote last week. — Mr. L. [poor] Man! writes in such a strain of melancholy [mor]tification, so bitterly complains of being struck off the list of Justices “for an act of humanity” and seems so comforted by any expressions of respect and regard, that I have not the heart to refuse the correspondence, which he again courts, after a long effusion — Mine was merely a letter of thanks for his mention of me in the 3rd edition of the Farmer's boy — — but in for a penny, in for a pound4

Be so good as to tell my Father that, as a subscriber to Dyer's book, he has ½ a guinea to pay for the volume I have received for him, and when the other two volumes are done, he will have to pay half a guinea more! — Poor man! but tell him, as some little consolation, that there are three pretty stanzas addressed to me in the 1st volume — The old verses, lengthened and improved — but they are "to a Lady" not to Mrs. Opie — Viganoni was with me from 12 to 3 to day, alternately singing with me, and talking — he has with all his genius, a great deal of what the french call bonhomie which makes him talkative, and confiding, when he is with those he thinks his friends — I was pleased, for his sake, to hear him say, he should sing only two or 3 years longer, as he had saved money enough to live quite at his ease in his native country — He said he should come to me again at Wednesday, and at six o’clock — I expect Richard that Evening — but I shall not put him off, because he will to hear Viganoni, and I shall make sure that he does not come till my lesson is finished. — Hesays musick is now so cultivated, and courted in England, that it is at its height, and must soon fall "en decadence” — But he thinks the present taste a vicious one — "Le monde Anglais," he says, like nothing equal to bravura singing, which he thinks no singing at all, and which never goes to the heart like simple sentimental singing — Indeed he never puts in a grace but what tends to illustrate the words sentiment of the words, and the stile of the air — His singing is conversation, put into sweet sounds — My plaudit is of no weight, perhaps, but Viganoni is unrivalled, that of all the oldest, most experienced, and able professors of musick — men who unite theory with practice, and are the only good judges, from having, from their situation an opportunity of comparing singers, and stiles — Men who have learnt to hear5 an art, nothing but hearing constantly the first musick, and performers can teach — I long to hear Mara again — Vig: says she sings better than ever tho’ her voice is on the wane — How strange it is that Bante retains her unequalled voice, tho’ she gets drunk every day — This extraordinary creature can't even write her name — and knows not a note of musick — Vig: is sometimes forced to pinch her to keep her in time and make her leave off her vile shake or rather no shake at the proper point — a gentleman declared to me he saw this; but I did not believe it, till I asked Vig: who told me it was too true, and the diva in question, she has not yet learnt correctly — Adieu! I hope that this letter will find you quite easy and comfortable — Love to all.


1. The Huntington Library holds the manuscript of this letter (OP63) and it is reproduced in Brightwell’s Memorials with some editorial excisions (80-82). The address fold is dated “1801,” which is supported by what can be seen of the postmark, and it is directed to “Mrs. John Taylor, St. George’s Colegate, Norwich.” It is likely that this letter was written prior to the March 23rd letter of the same year. In that letter Opie refers to frequent meetings with Richard Taylor, who was acting as printer for The Father and Daughter, which was published by Longman. Topics: Anecdotes of the Famous; Illness: Literary Allusion; Marriage; Memories/Nostalgia; Reading; Theater; Writing.

2. Susannah Taylor had seven children. The most likely candidates for this 1801 illness would be either Arthur Taylor (b. 1790) or Susan Taylor (b. 1793).

3. Richard Taylor was in partnership with Richard Wilks in 1801. They had purchased the printing business from Jonas Davis, with whom Taylor had served his apprenticeship, under the aegis of Sir James Edward Smith. In The Lamp of Learning: Two Centuries of Publishing at Taylor and Francis (Taylor and Francis, 1984; 1998: 23-27) the relationship between Taylor and Wilks is described as a tumultuous one. It would end with some degree of recrimination and threat of violence in 1803, when Taylor bought Wilks out with the assistance of his father. Mrs. Wilks appears very briefly in The Lamp of Learning where she is described as attempting to make peace between the two men. In this account of the publishing house, Richard Wilks is described as “a most unprincipled fellow,” who incited apprentices and customers alike to quarreling. Richard also accused him of undertaking business and legal actions without his consent. In 1801, when Opie is writing Taylor, the relationship with the men must have already been fraying.

4. Capel Llofft (1751-1824) was a radical Whig, editor, writer, and abolitionist. He had been denied a seat as a Suffolk Magistrate because he had opposed the execution of a young servant girl accused of theft. He was also the patron of Robert Bloomfield, a working-class poet. The Farmer’s Boy was Bloomfield’s most successful work, a 1500 line poem in heroic couplets influenced by the poetry of Oliver Goldsmith and Thomas Gray. Llofft made some minor changes to the poem, found a publisher, and contributed a preface to the third edition, dated 22 August 1800. He lists Opie among several other writers who had expressed admiration for the poem, and celebrates her “Taste and Genius” (The Farmer’s Boy, 9th ed., Vernor and Hood, 1806: xxiv).

5. “Hear” is underlined twice.