Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

June 22, 18011


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Monday—

I did not expect, my dear friend, that my asking one favor of you should procure me two; viz fowls for Viganoni, and a letter for myself — but I like to take all heaven sends — and the more the better. — The basket arrived safe, and its contents were excellent V. told me yesterday; I knew that he was a dear lover of chickens, so I trust that my present gratified both his moral, and physical taste —

Of your motives for telling [several words inked over] can possibly [several words inked over] but the expediency of such daring has not been proved by the event, and adds I think to the strength of my former convictions on the subject — I mean as to its [three full lines inked over] many, many years ago [two lines inked over] but now that they have been [one and a half lines inked over] have them no more, only think what a comfort it must be for them in their old age, to have [two full lines inked over] may nor hope to experience again, and [two words inked over] they will [full line inked over] If I dared I would tell [two lines inked over] When we meet you shall have it — 2 Your question to me "what is this indescribable charm which attends the over flowings of one mind into another, when it finds itself understood?" — I can't answer; tho’ as you observe, the enjoyment is known to me — But this pleasure is not confined to the contemplation of well assorted minds — in everything we delight to see things fit, as we call it; even a scissors sheath delights us when on buying it, we find it sits flush — as the phrase is — no wonder then that when mind fits mind, the pleasure should be so great — and as two pair of scissors can't fit the same sheath at the same time, so perhaps mind never fits mind so well as in a tête à tête — there is then no pulling on one side or the other, but one mind loses itself gradually in its kindred mind — the motion in straight, and the scissors go flush into the sheath, to carry on the illustration — —

Yes — as you say — July is coming — and I am coming, but late in July I doubt — I have not made out the author of the anonymous letter — I wish I had — yet, there I lie — Mountains look largest, and most sublime, when they are shrouded partly in mist — The British Critic is something awful; 3 but what is Parson Beloe? Richard is in no difficulty with Longman and Rees — He, and I agreed that I could not get off with honor, so we have made up our minds to abide by the loss — 4 Pray tell my father that 750 are to be printed of the Tale; it will be time enough to settle the number of the other vol. when it is ready for the press — at present I am so incapable of writing! —5

I have been giving myself a great deal of trouble to-day, and I doubt at last I shall be disappointed — Viganoni, with great readiness, and great humility granted my request that he would set the little song I wrote the other day — but to enable him to do this, I have first written it out, leaving a space between each line wide enough for him to write the cadence of the words, as if they were Italian, underneath — then at bottom, into french prose, I have translated the song, that he may comprehend the sentiment — and I have also written it again with a literal translation of each word by a french one under it, regardless of french construction that he may catch the proper emphasis — as thus —

and, after all, if he should not do it well! — he says he will do son possible, but I have my fears — if he succeeds, I shall be so pleased! — — What a labour it is to laugh for a continuance! I am quite sore today with immoderate laughter yesterday! — I was irritable, and then anything sets me off — not but what my uncle and aunt, at whose house I dined, and Mr. Biggs who dined there also, were very agreeable, but had I been quite well, and my husband not gone to Chatham, I should not have been so noisy — yet I declare I laugh now at some of the fun — I expect my husband home in half an hour — He went to please me — and after he was gone I repented of my persuading him to go — but I thought the air, and exercise would do him good — Do not laugh, but tho’ only two days absent, the house seems so strange without its master, that I have learned to excuse, nay to commend, women for marrying again! How dreadfully forlorn must be the situation of a widow! — I think I shall write an essay recommending second marriages, and dedicate it to Mrs. Merrick. — Well — God bless you! — I think I have written nonsense enough — Love to yr spouse, and bairns, and believe me, ever yours,

Anne P: is gone to [Worcester]: Bell stays at home, and the old lady is gone into Cambridgeshire — We do not meet often — but kindly

What stuff! To talk about our great kindnesses to you! All I did was to please myself not you —



Notes

1. The Huntington Library holds the manuscript for this letter (OP62) and it is reproduced in Brightwell’s Memorials with significant editorial excisions (85-86). Much of the second paragraph has been obscured by heavy dark ink. It is likely that this occurred at a later date since the marks are very different from incidental corrections on the manuscript (85-86). Isabelle Cosgrave discusses Brightwell’s editorial intrusions in “Untrustworthy Reproductions and Doctored Archives: Undoing the Sins of a Victorian Biographer” (The Boundaries of the Literary Archive, Ashgate, 2013: 61-74). Opie only notes the day of the week at the top of the letter. However, the postmark is legible, leading the Huntington Library to assign it a date of June 22, 1801; the month of June is most likely based upon internal evidence in the poem (i.e. “July is coming”). John Opie would not have left London during May, which was the month of the Royal Academy Exhibition. Although there is no salutation, the address fold reads “Mrs. John Tayor, St. George’s Colegate, Norwich”. Topics: Friendship; Marriage; Music; Publication; Social Engagements; Writing.

2. Several lines of this paragraph are heavily inked over and Brightwell silently deletes it from her transcription (Memorials 85-86). As Cosgrave notes, it is likely that Brightwell was responsible for “doctoring” the manuscript. In this case, she does not indicate that she has cut a section at the top of the letter; strangely enough she inserts asterisks later in the letter, indicating a deletion where there is none.

3. I have not been able to find the “anonymous letter” referred to here, although it seems to have appeared in The British Critic, a conservative periodical. It is possible that Taylor and Opie are not discussing The Father and Daughter at all but rather another article from the journal, since it regularly panned the work of their friends and other like-minded Britons. In June, for example, an anonymous reviewer denigrates Helen Maria William’s Sketches of the French Republic, taking umbrage at both her politics and personal life, and at several points alludes to her unconventional lifestyle by hinting at the sexual nature of her relationship with the married John Hurford Stone. Another friend of Opie’s, Sydney Smith, also receives a negative review in June, since The British Critic found his sermons to be too fashionable and light in tone. It is likely that the author of many of these negative articles was William Beloe, referred to as "Parson" Beloe by Opie. Beloe was a writer, translator, and one of the editors of The British Critic, as well as a former Norwich resident. Opie continued to be annoyed by Beloe even after his death. He included an anecdote about Opie kissing Horne Tooke during the Treason Trials in his posthumously published The Sexagenarian (1817), which Opie declared a "positive falsehood" in a letter to Archibald Constable (18 September 1817, Leeds University Library mss. letter 158/1). She also objected to his representation of her friendships with Helen Maria Williams and Wollstonecraft.

4. Opie seems to be referring to a dispute between her publishers, Longman and Rees, and her printer, Richard Taylor, who was Susannah Taylor’s son.

5. The Father and Daughter, A Tale, In Prose: With An Epistle From The Maid of Corinth to her Lover; and Other Poetical Pieces appeared in 1801. A second edition of the tale appeared almost immediately afterwards but without any of the poetry. The volume of Poems obliquely referred to didn’t appear until 1802. This letter suggests that Opie may have been pressured by Longman and Rees to bring out the volume of poetry earlier than she preferred.

6. The lines translated by Viganoni are from “Go, youth belov’d, in distant glades,” which first appeared in the Poems of 1802. It was also set to music by Frances Harriet Jones that same year in Six Canzonets with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte. One of Opie’s most popular works, “Go, youth belov’d” drew the notice of reviewers and readers alike, and was frequently reprinted (Shelley King and John Pierce, The Collected Poems of Amelia Alderson Opie, Oxford UP, 2009).