Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

March 23, 18011

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My dear friend,

I began a letter to you full a fortnight ago, but I know not what is become of the previous scrawl; it is "wasting its sweetness on the desert air,"2 somewhere or other, so I must begin a new one — all I remember of it is, that it began with very sensible reproaches for your having thought it necessary, and becoming in you to thank me for what you were pleased to call kindnesses, from me to you, and yours — as if such words and such ceremonies were proper between you, and me, and as if in showing attention to you, and Richard, I did not do myself honor by proving the sense I entertain of superior merit — Tol de rol lol! — So you are coming to the great City! — But let me advise you to come in mourning, for there seems to be a rot amongst royalty, and one court mourning succeeds to another — the present one will scarcely be over before you arrive — one of our great grandmothers is dead — but which I do not know — I shall have a great deal to tell you about new people, and new characters when I see you — which a letter could neither contain nor do justice to.— It is a world to see! I dearly love to get a peep at it now, and then; and what I do see of it only serves to endear the safety, and quiet of my own home ——3

You will be up just time enough for one of my pleasantest parties — and I expect you, and I shall be two jolly dogs (not to say b— s,) when we get together again — You will see the Exhibition too; and I hope "que vous y verrez briller mon Mari."—— 4

I am glad on reperusing "The Dangers of Coquetry" that you think so highly of it — I read it at Seething soon after I married, and felt a great respect for it; and if I ever write a collection of tales, I shall correct and re-publish that, as I originally wrote it, not as it now is, in the shape of a novel in chapters. I believe I told you that Mr. Hoare was so struck with it, as to intend writing a play from it —— I wish he would!—5

Heigho! — I am very stupid to-night, and my ideas do not come coulamment — so for want of something better to say, I will tell you a characteristic anecdote of Mr. Northcote — Mr. Opie, and he, and Sir Francis Bourgeois (the landscape painter) dined at Sir William Elford's the other day, and met there a Colonel Elford — After dinner some disputatious conversation took place, in which my husband, and Mr. N: took a principal part — After some time the Col: said in a low voice to Sir Francis — "Painters are queer fellows — how oddly they converse — one knows not what to make of them — how oddly these men run on!" —Sir Francis assented, and consoled himself as well as he could, for being so little eminent as not to be known to be a painter himself — After tea, he took an opportunity of telling this story to Northcote — who, starting back with a face of horror, exclaimed, "Gude God! then he took you for a gentleman!" —— I dare say he did not sleep that night.—— My husband says very truly, and admirably of this queer little beast, that his mind resembles an old family mansion, in which some of the apartments are furnished, and in good repair, while the major part are empty, or full of rubbish — Of the Plumptres I see little. (Bell: is laudably attentive to her studies, and stays at home; while Anne, a little in love as usual, is more at Ham, with Mr. and Mrs. Bartheleme than in Caroline Street. Even Drury Lane, and Kemble are deserted for this interesting emigre, as she tells me he is ——6 Enter Mr. Northcote

Sunday —— I have nothing to tell you in consequence of the little man's visit, except a fresh proof of the care he takes of his little health — I had some cheese toasted, and brought up — “Gude God! how unwholesome! one piece if you please, and no more“— presently after, he says — "Bless me! Mrs. Opie — what eating still? how much have you ventured to eat?""Two pieces"— "O! then so will I — I'll venture to eat two pieces too"— As a proof of his politeness, I will tell you that on my saying Sir Roger L'Estrange was a Norfolk man — he exclaimed, "A Norfolk man! could anything good, or great come out of Norfolk?"

You will find Richard much thinner than he was in the Summer, but he is quite well, and on second thoughts I believe it likely that he will have quite recovered his looks, by the time you come up — I am told my Father certainly means to visit us this Spring — but I am resolved not to expect him, I was so disappointed last year —

But to return to Anne P: — She, and Mr. Bartheleme have had (entre nous) a literary concern together, and this gentleman is about 36, very clever, and in Anne's eyes very like her two old flames Mr. Lambert and Merry — and Mrs. Bartholeme is, Anne says, in a Consumption. ———Here is a situation for fair hopes, and young desires! All this I learn from Bell, who, you know, piques herself on her penetration, and chuckles at Anne's entanglements — But Bell says Mr. B is not to her taste at all — I have not seen him, yet — Ham, is 8 miles from Town, yet the fair pedestrian walks thither and back, untired — Even the wanton Weavess is forgotten, — and left unlamented to the fair, perfidious Helen Maria, whom, Mrs Barbauld persists to think immaculate in virgin purity — and on no other ground that she writes word that she is still a virgin, and writes like a simple, ingenuous, candid young woman — Ergo, if she were not a virgin I suppose that Mrs. B: concludes she would be so sincere as to say so —

Anne P: has just been here — but not a word did she say to me about my book — nor ever will I dare say — but she was very friendly, pitying me I dare say for having exposed myself so egregiously — and quite sure now that I am nobody——7

I am sorry that you will come up too late for the Oratorios. I believe I shall write to Mr. Smith about bassoon whom I like very much — — 8

I am going to day to carry Mrs. Inchbald my book to read —She has promised me her opinion of it — and I long to receive it — She is a sufficient judge of the tale only — Poetry is to her an undiscovered country — The ballads she already admires very highly — as this letter will not go till tomorrow, I shall leave it open this night — (Sunday Eve:) — I had written thus far, when your kind letter came — I repeat my advice to you to come in a black muslin; a white gown, and black ribbands, or even a coloured gown will do occasionally in a morning to spare your other, and then you will always be either dressed, or undressed, for black suits all companies — Black stockings, and a black petticoat you would find so useful too! The time for coming which you mention will suit me quite well — as you will see above — All black (to go back to dress) continues fashionable, and is oeconomical too — I am very glad you like my tale — The Hoares called today; and expressed themselves much pleased and affected by it — Mr. Hoare could not sleep all night after it — it made him so wretched — You will undoubtedly see both Cooke and Mrs. Jordan. Adieu, just room to send kind love to Mr. T. etc.


1. The Huntington Library holds the manuscript for this letter (OP61) and it is reproduced in Brightwell’s Memorials with significant editorial excisions (82-85). It is undated but the postmark clearly reads March 23, 1801, and although it opens with the salutation “My dear friend,” it is addressed on the fold to “Mrs. J: Taylor, St. George’s, Norwich.” The letter is notable for its bawdy and irreverent tone throughout. Written over the course of a Saturday and a Sunday, it is full of anecdotes and commentary on a host of mutual acquaintances. It is also notable in that Opie discusses her 1790 Dangers of Coquetry and her newly published The Father and Daughter. Topics: Anecdotes of the Famous; Friendship; Literary Allusion; Royal Academy; Theater; Social Engagements; Writing.

2. An ironic allusion to Thomas Gray’s “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard” (1751). The stanza reads “Full many a gem of purest ray serene / The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: / Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air” (53-56).

3. Opie seems to be alluding to her socializing amongst the aristocracy. Her friendships with Lady Charleville and Lady Cork began at this time.

4. Opie refers to the Royal Academy’s yearly May Exhibition. In 1801 John Opie exhibited eight paintings, including The Love-sick Maid, or the Doctor Puzzled and a portrait of John Herring, the Mayor of Norwich, perhaps of particular interest to Taylor.

5. Opie published The Dangers of Coquetry anonymously (W. Lane, 1799). Shelley King and John Pierce include it in their Broadview edition of The Father and Daughter (2003).

6. Amelia Opie refers here to Anne Plumptre’s relationship with a French émigré referred to as “Mr. Bartheleme.” Plumptre identifies the gentlemen as “Barthelemy” in her Narrative of a three years’ residence in France (1810) and indicates that he was a relation of Jean-Jacque Barthélemy, a renowned French writer and classicist. Plumptre accompanied the Barthélemys to France during the Peace of Amiens.

7. Opie’s The Father and Daughter, a Tale, in Prose; with An Epistle from The Maid of Corinth to her Lover, and Other Poetical Pieces (Printed by Davis, Wilks, and Taylor, Chancery-Lane; and sold by Longman and Rees, Paternoster-Row, 1801). Her most successful work, Father and Daughter went through at least nine editions and was adapted for the stage on several occasions. The first edition was published with a selection of poems, which were later extracted and added to for a separate volume that appeared in 1802. Susannah Taylor’s son, Richard, was a partner in the printing firm that produced many of Opie’s works during this period and he makes frequent appearances in her correspondence with his mother.

8. It seems likely that Opie is referring to the Lenten oratorio series performed at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Under the direction of John Ashley, a renowned conductor and bassoonist, Covent Garden staged the first performance of Mozart’s Requiem in February of 1801, along with pieces from Handel. The performances continued throughout Lent but Opie notes with some disappointment that they will have ended by the time of Taylor’s visit. My supposition is supported in the next section of the letter where Opie refers to her enjoyment of the bassoon, which was Ashley’s primary instrument and featured in his productions. (Rachel Cowgill and Julian Rushton, eds. Europe, Empire, and Spectacle in Nineteenth-Century British Music, Ashgate, 2006: 12-20; An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, Oxford University Press, 1999: 628; 409).