Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

Summer 1803 or possibly 18041

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My Dear friend,

It is very surprizing that shocked as I was at the idea of your illness, and feeling as I did what a terrible misfortune to me the loss of you would be, and rejoiced as I was to receive from you a letter in yr own hand-writing announcing yr convalescence, it is very suprizing indeed, I say, that I should not have written to you immediately to express my joy, and my thanks but this is one of the oddities in oneself, which I can better report than excuse. ——

I am just returned from seeing both yr sons at the risk of my character, I ventured, and in a straw hat tied with pink too, under the dark archway that leads to Richard’s learned apartments — There, up dirty stairs, I found John in a very clean, and light closet, writing letters. — thence he conducted me over all the wonders of the place, and Richard, (whom I met last night at Mrs: Hutchinson's) just came in, and desired his love to you –

I hope that they will both dine with me on Monday to meet the Barbaulds. —

Sunday — I sent to Mr. Smith for a frank for you on the Thursday, and for my father on the Wednesday — The one for you was for the 29th — now Thursday was the 30th — so I could not use it and being busy, I put off finishing my letter, and so Sunday is come before I could have an opportunity of resuming my pen —

I am just returned from Deptford — where I have been since Thursday — a sad loss of time, and nothing would have made me patient under it but the extreme pity I feel for Miss [Mithers] forlorn situation — 2 But perhaps as my company gives her comfort, I might not to call my visit to her a loss of time — I was lamenting to Mrs. Barbauld, to whom I related this poor orphan’s story, that Miss M: did not seem to have any taste for reading — “So much the better” was her answer — I do not think such a taste desirable. Reading is an indolent way of passing the time, and so she went on. I was extremely surprised as you may think, and began to combat her aspersions — but, I recollected that I had heard it said that Mrs. B: like W. Taylor, often contradicted for the sake of argument, and when I feel this, as it is a proceeding which I thoroughly disapprove, I am too angry to hold keep up the ball —

I find that Mrs. B. admires Cowper’s letters very much — In my opinion, they have been much overrated. The letters to Lady Hespeth are beautiful — but those to Hayley, and J. Johnson, abounding as they do, in “dearests”, and “fond nephew”, and dearest of all dear Johnnies make me sick à la mort — The Life is small sweet [several words inked over] I should think it was the life of [several words inked over] written by [two words inked over] I am forced to recollect the manly ruggedness of some of Cowper’s poetry to get rid of an idea [a full line inked over] that of a man with [two more lines inked over] — 3

Poor soul! Such [seems] to have been is timidity, that he [several words inked over] gratitude to every one almost — not for positive but negative obligations — the negative obligation of not beating him, or calling him names — He seems to have fancied every man’s hand would be against him, and therefore, good words, and fair usage were to him bounties, most unexpected, and overwhelming.

We shall be a party of Norfolkites tomorrow. The Barbaulds, John and Richard, Mrs. Hutchinson, and Mrs. Stafford! How lucky that she should happen to be here! She will not dine with me, but she comes at 7 —

You have not ridden much in stage coaches I believe — at least not round Town — O! What a pleasure I should lose were I to ride in my own carriage, and forsake stages!

I find egotism the prevailing characteristic of my fellow travelers. This morning, I found, when I entered the stage one passenger only in it, and that was a little girl — “are you going to Town?” said I “yes” I know the gentleman, and so I came” “What gentleman?” “The coachman — he lives by us, and so, as I wanted to go for my shoes, he said he would take me for the shoemaker have disappointed me — he promised me my shoes to wear to day, and I am going to see after ‘em. — I have known Mr. Keeler a long time etc.” and so she ran on till I was tired of listening, and convinced me egotism was of all ages — as I went down a fine jolly, florid young woman, a great deal fatter than I am was complaining to a gentleman who informed us he was just recovered from a fit of illness, that she too was very unwell — and as she had not seen her friends at Deptford for 2 years she was sure they would be quite shocked at the change in her — for when she left them she was she said quite jolly, and healthy looking —” I could hardly keep my laughter at this, her Deptford friends must be droll persons, and great amateurs of fat indeed to be dissatisfied with her magnitude and regret what she had lost —4 I protest she might have played the goddess of health at Dr. Graham's.

I shall see you now soon, and I hope to see you nearly well. Farewell! With kind love to Mr. Taylor and all the family, I remain, toute à vous,


1. The New York Public Library's Berg Collection holds the manuscript of this letter. It is partially transcribed in Brightwell’s Memorials (118-120) where it is identified as addressed to Taylor and given an 1804 date. Within the letter, Opie refers to writing the letter over several days, having begun it on the Thursday (the 30th) of the month but continuing it on the following Sunday. In looking over calendars for 1803 and 1804, it seems most likely that Opie began this letter on Thursday, June 30th, 1803, the only month in the year where a Thursday falls on the 30th. If she wrote it in 1804, it would have had to be in August, when the Opies were almost always in Norwich. Indeed, John Opie writes a letter in October of 1804 noting that he has just returned from five weeks in the country. The manuscript is incomplete, breaking off mid-sentence on the fourth page; it is without an envelope or address fold, although the letter begins with Opie’s characteristic address to Taylor, “My dear friend.” Someone (either Opie or Brightwell) took dark ink to the letter obscuring several lines on the third page, as I’ve noted below. Topics: Anecdotes of the Famous; Illness; Reading; Travel in Britain.

2. The last name of the woman referred to here is nearly illegible in the manuscript and Brightwell refers to her only as “Miss M”.

3. Opie refers here to William Hayley's edition of The Life and Letters of William Cowper, Esq. with Remarks on Epistolary Writers (J. Johnson, 1803-1804). Either Brightwell or Opie has taken dark ink and obscured much of Opie's commentary here on Cowper and his biography. There are many possible reasons for this. Firstly, Cowper's life was marred by spells of deep suicidal depression and perhaps Opie's comments were felt to be inappropriate. It is also possible that Opie had less than flattering things to say about Hayley's editorial work, which would have been awkward given her later friendship with him. She did not know Hayley in 1803 but they were to become very good friends a decade later.

4. The manuscript letter breaks off here but Brightwell's transcription finishes off this observation and includes a closing paragraph. I’ve included her transcription here but with the caveat that she no doubt edited Opie’s original letter.