Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

June 29, 18021

Access the TEI code
Tuesday, 1802

My Dear Friend,

As opening and detaining letters to and from active partizans is the order of the day, and as the enclosed contains numbers, I write to you instead of my father, and shall get my letter directed for me. Franks are now of no use, as even Peers can't frank, being no longer Lords of parliament; therefore, were they sacred to these licensed rogues, the one I have for to-morrow is good for nothing. Indefatigable, alias your cousin Peter, whom I saw just now at Mr. Smith's, desired me to send Lord C.'s letter; so I obey. Be so good also, as to tell my father that his letter, franked by Mr. Smith, did not reach till Saturday; and tell him I wrote to him yesterday, enclosing the peer's first letter.2

Your kind answer to my statement of vexation gave me the greatest satisfaction, and I hope by your excellent advice and assistance to be able, with a very little trouble, to put such a degree of order in my subsequent ménage as shall prevent, in future, any gross imposition. Anne's conduct since the detection, and what I have heard of it previously to it, takes from me all idea of my carelessness having led her into temptation. I believe her to be thoroughly bad.3

Yesterday evening, at half-past five, we saw the balloon, from the painting-room window, distinctly. Suddenly it was lost in a cloud, and the feeling it gave me was a very strange one. Soon after it emerged again, considerably higher than it was before; then it entered another cloud and disappeared. It is past two, and Mr. Garnerin is not returned, but I have been to the Pantheon to inquire concerning him, and I find he landed at Colchester in an hour and forty minutes!4

Of election matters what can I say? 5 Till I read the squibs, etc. I could not, con amore,6 say, I wished Mr. Windham to be ousted; but now indignation has assisted principle to conquer feeling, and I will not say of the agreeable delinquent, "If to his share some manly errors fall / Hear him converse, and you'll forget them all," or, "Look in his eyes, and you'll forget them all," (which you please, Mrs. Taylor.) —7 I was to have gone to Mr. Hiliar's on Sunday or Monday; but, if the election is to be on Monday, I can't leave town to be out of the way of the news on Tuesday, especially as I should not meet with sympathy in my feelings there. Adieu! I must go to see again whether Garnerin is returned. I wonder when your travellers come back.

Believe me, ever most affectionately yours,

P. S. I want to come down to the election ball. What a shock poor Garnham's death was to me!


1. There is no extant manuscript of this letter. I have taken the text from Brightwell’s Memorials of the life of Amelia Opie (95-96) with the understanding that she almost certainly edited the letter with her characteristically heavy hand. Brightwell places a date of “Tuesday, 1802,” at the top of letter but based upon the content of the letter, I have determined the date of composition to be June 29, 1802. The Garnerin balloon ascent is a historically documented event and Opie refers to writing the letter the day after the London launch. Topics: Anecdotes of the Famous; Elections; On servants.

2. Opie regularly relied upon friends serving as Members of Parliament for franks, which allowed her to send letters for free. MPs had an unlimited number of franks until 1802, when an act of parliament restricted the number of letters a MP could frank in a given day, forcing more correspondents to use the post office system at a cost. At this time, the recipient of the letter was required to pay for postage rather than the author. It seems that on this occasion Opie has sent Taylor at least one other letter enclosed with her own and used the post office. However, she mentions receiving a letter franked by William Smith, MP for Sudbury, that her father had sent, which had enclosed another letter from Smith to a “Lord C.” It seems likely that “Lord C.” refers to Lord Thomas William Coke, a powerful Norfolk landowner and sympathetic and, like Smith, an Opposition Whig.

3. In this letter, Opie emphatically rejects the possibility of Anne’s possible “amendment.” It seems likely that Brightwell has deleted quite a bit of detail here.

4. André-Jacques Garnerin, the “Official Aeronaut of France,” was taking advantage of the Peace of Amiens to visit England. Hundreds of enthusiastic spectators gathered in Ranelegh to watch his colorful balloon ascend on June 28th. The spectacle was a celebration of international cooperation, with an Englishman, Captain R. C. Sowden, taking a seat across from Garnerin during the flight to Colchester, some sixty miles outside of London. See Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900 and “Aërial Excursions of M. Garnerin,” European Magazine 42 (July 1802): 23.

5. The Norwich Elections of 1802 were particularly heated, pitting William Smith, sponsored by radical Whigs, against William Windham, a longtime representative of the district, who was a conservative Whig and closely affiliated with Prime Minister Pitt, having served as his Secretary of War between 1794 and 1801. Opie had known Windham since childhood but her political opinions aligned her with Smith, for whom she would enthusiastically campaign during the 1806 elections. Opposition Whigs opposed to Windham accused him of war mongering because of his support of Pitt’s government, while those against Smith referred to him as a “King-Killer,” in reference to his radical beliefs. Smith would prove victorious in 1802 (John A. Phillips, Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights, Princeton University Press, 2014: 195-9557).

6. The Italian “con amore” can be translated as “with love” but it's also a musical direction meaning “with tenderness”.

7. Allusion to Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Canto II. Opie changes the gender to suit her ends. The original verse reads: “Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride, / Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide: / If to her share some female errors fall, / Look on her face, and you’ll forget ‘em all” (Pope, The Rape of the Lock, Canto II, 15-18. Opie rejects both Windham’s rhetorical and personal attractions here while simultaneously relying upon the radical literary device of feminizing those Whigs opposed to social reform.