Amelia Alderson [Opie] to Susannah Taylor

[June 21, 1795]1

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Sunday Morning —

It is so long my dear friend, since I conversed with you even thro’ the imperfect medium of a letter, that I joyfully take advantage of the first favorable opportunity for writing you a long epistle, in hopes that I may rouze you to pay me in coin — Besides, you are in a state of widowhood, and require all the attention possible to console you for so forlorn a condition — So Miss Marsh, is at length Mrs. Francis Smith — I commission you to present them with my sincere wishes for their happiness, and to assure them, that one of my first visits on my return shall be paid to them, as I know that that at their house at least I shall always find rational conversation, and that they will not object to the society at mine. —

What shall I tell you by way of anecdote? My Father has read you, perhaps, my account of Charles Lameth — take some more particulars respecting that extraordinary man — You may suppose that I felt a new, and pleasing sensation while contemplating him, as I knew him to be one of the actors in the first revolution; and as soon as my silence yielded to my curiosity, I began questioning him concerning some of the patriotic leaders — 2 Amongst others I inquired what he thought of Legendre — He says Legendre tho’ misled, has some good points in his character, and is not a bad man — he then gave us the following instance of his determined spirit, and resolution — "I was, at the time I mention (said Lameth) president of the national Convention, and had been supping at your house (turning to the Duc d'Aiguillon) when at midnight my servant came to me, and said, “a man muffled up is in a hackney coach at the door, and wants to see you — “Tell him to come in” — “He refuses” — “Go and ask his name,” — He did so, and returned saying “his name is Legendre —” Hearing this, I went into the coach to him, and demanded his business — “I come to you replied he, as president of the national convention — I hear that an accusation is bringing forward against me, and as I shrink not from the charge, I came to surrender myself — and save you trouble — Here I am, guillotine me if you will, I am firm and ready” — I endeavoured to convince him the decree of accusation might be repealed, and that all that was necessary was his concealment till the danger was gone by — “Conceal me then in your house, my own is not safe” cried he, but I convinced him that mine was too publick, however I sent to a friend in whom I could confide, who concealed Legendre in his, till the decree was annulled — — —

"O!" said Sam: Rogers to me, some time after; I do not like that fellow's looks, I would not have gone muffled up to his house at midnight, and have given him leave to kill me — for fear he should have taken me at my word!" — This led Mr. Rogers to give his opinion of the 3 émigrés then with us, and of Duport, another of considerable talents who was prevented coming and he defined them thus. — Tho’ I have often entertained Lameth at my house, I should expect if I went to France, and he were in power, that he would treat me insolently, and make me feel the distance between us, even if he admitted me to his table. — The Marquis, would grin at me, and pass on — The Duc, would be glad to see me, and do me immediately all the service, and civility in his power; but Duport would open his arms to me!" —3

Lameth entertained the gentlemen very much, by his account of the fascinating Madame de Condorcet, and of her method of acquiring votes for the members whom she wished returned — These favoured men were called the majority of Madame de Condorcet and on my innocently asking what it meant, I saw enough, from the laugh I excited, and L's mysterious manner of answering, to know that the majority of Madame de Condorcet meant no good — 4

"Does she live still? said I —"O yes, cried the Duc, she is in no danger — all parties will be her friend, she is so pretty, and so accommodating; and I'm sure she'll be the friend of all parties" The Marquis, who was the intimate friend of the Duc de Rouchefoucault, says, tho’ he brought Condorcet forward, fed him, lodged him, and married him, Condorcet was justly suspected of being privy to his assassination. — When Lameth was forced to fly, as he was denounced in the Jacobin club, and orders given for his detention, he sent to desire such a portmanteau to be forwarded directly to him — Having received it, and wanting some of the money and papers which it contained, he opened it as soon as he was out of France, and found, to his utter surprise and dismay, that the wrong portmanteau had been sent, and instead of money, that it contained his wife's child-bed linen! — "Et les voilà encore, mesdames! (continua-t-il) car, en vérité, je n'ai pas eu encore occasion d'en faire usage." — —

Yesterday morning I had the unexpected pleasure of a visit from Mr. Wrangham5 C: Marsh accompanied — He did not stay long, as Mr. and Mrs. [gap torn], and John, came in, but he has promised to call again on Tuesday or Wednesday — he is as gentle, elegant, and interesting as ever — —

He gained the Seatonian prize for a poem this year, which is published, and he has promised to send me one — I am much pleased with Mr. W: Taylor's ode to the ship that conveys Gerald — 6 Tho’ he would not favor me with a copy of the elegant sonnet he sent me on the morning of my departure, my memory retains every word of it, and I catch myself repeating the 1st, and last line, whenever home, and all its varied associations crowd on my mind — Month follows month in this wilderness of pleasure, if I may call it so, where fruits and flowers dispute preeminence with weeds, and yet I cannot say, "I'll stay here no longer" till as I said before, “my natal soil, and its comforts press on my mind, and I exclaim, "Ah not for ever quaff at pleasure's distant fount!" To-morrow I am going to enjoy "the feast of reason and the flow of soul with Mrs. Barbauld, and Dr. Geddes, at Mrs. Howard's — 7 I wish I could wish you there — Godwin drank tea, and supt here last night, a leave taking visit as he goes tomorrow to spend a fortnight at Dr Parr's —

It would have entertained you highly to have seen him bid me farewell — He wished to salute me, but his courage failed him — "While oft he looked back, and was loth to depart” — 8 "Will you give me nothing to keep for yr sake, and console me during my absence, murmured out the philosopher, not even yr slipper? “I had it in my possession once, and need not have returned it —" This was true, my shoe had come off, and he had put it in his pocket for some time — You have no idea how gallant he is become. — but indeed he is much more amiable than ever he was — Mrs. Inchbald says, the report of the world is, that Mr Holcroft is in love with her, she with Mr. Godwin, Mr Godwin with me, and I am in love with Mr. Holcroft! — a pretty story indeed! — This report Godwin brings to me — and he says Mrs. I: always tells him that when she praises him, I praise Holcroft— this is not fair in Mrs. I: — she appears to me jealous of G.'s attention to me, so she makes him believe I prefer H. to him — She often says to me, "Now you are come, Mr. Godwin does not come near me." — Is not this very womanish? — We had a most delightful conversation last night — a dispute on the merits of different poets — Mr. G: abusing Collins, I defending him, G: setting Gray above him, and I putting him below him — but we agreed about Churchill, who was one of my flames

How idle I am! I cannot write, and I read but little — but I shall mend — Farewell! Mr. Batty and I both wear you "in our heart's core," 9 and so would Mrs. B: if she knew you — 10

I love and admire Mr. and Mrs. Batty more every day. C: Buck and I are very intimate. Love to the Barnards and my love to the Smiths — I wish Fanny could have stayed — Dear love and good wishes to the boys and girls —11


1. For permission to publish the text of manuscript in their possession, the editor would like to thank The New York Public Library's Berg Collection. The mss. letter is addressed to "Mrs. John Taylor, St. George's, Norwich." Brightwell excerpts much of the letter in the Memorials (52-54) and gives it a date of 1795, which is supported by the damaged postmark. Within the letter itself, Opie alludes to two events that allow for more precise dating: a visit from William Godwin and the marriage of a Miss Marsh to a Mr. Francis Smith. Godwin records having dinner with "AA" at the "Battys" on June 20, 1795 (William Godwin's Diary). There is also reference to a marriage between a Miss Marsh and a Francis Smith of Norwich on June 21, 1795 (The Genealogical Magazine: A Journal of Family History, Heraldry, and Pedigrees Vol. II. Elliot Stock, 1899: 163). Topics in this letter: Anecdotes of the Famous, France, Literary Allusion, Romantic Entanglements, Social Engagements.

2. The Frenchmen named here, Charles Lameth and Armand, the duc’Aiguillon, were prominent Gironidists, and had fled France with the rise of the Jacobins. Both men had renounced their aristocratic privileges in 1789; Lamath and had been a deputy to the Estates-General of 1789, and the duc’Aiguillon had served in the National Assembly. It seems likely that the “Duport” mentioned here is Adrien Duport, who was also a delegate to the Estates-General and a particular ally of Charles Lameth’s brother. I haven’t been able to identify the “Marquis” also mentioned in this letter. Amelia queries Lameth about Louis Legendre, who had voted for the execution of the King in spite of some Girondist sympathies; Legendre avoided the guillotine during the Terror by becoming an ally of Robespierre.

3. Samuel Rogers, a poet beloved by Wordsworth and Byron, had published the hugely successful The Pleasures of Memory in 1792. Success as a poet meant that he was able to leave his very lucrative position in the family banking business, although with a healthy annual income. Like others mentioned in this letter, Rogers was friends with Godwin and the Boddingtons, but with more aristocratic connections within England and to France, which he had visited in 1791. In the mid-1790s his London literary salons attracted progressive Whigs and French émigrés, as this letter indicates.

4. Sophie de Condorcet (1764-1822) was a Gironidist writer and translator whose salon gatherings were notable for their inclusion of other women, including Olympe de Gouges and Germaine de Staël. The gossip in this letter is particularly cruel since her husband, Nicholas de Condorcet, had died under suspicious circumstances after his arrest in 1794. Condorcet had presided over the National Assembly while the Girondists were in power but was an early sacrifice to the rise of the Jacobin party. Madame de Condorcet supported herself as a writer, translator, and publisher after her husband’s death.

5. The Reverend Francis Wrangham, graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge, was a writer and Church of England clergyman. In 1793 he had been denied a divinity fellowship at Cambridge due to his radical political beliefs and so took up a position as a curate in Surrey. He nonetheless received the Seaton poetry prize in 1795 for a long poem entitled “The Restoration of the Jews.” The poem itself was dedicated to Basil Montague, “A True Friend (For He Has Been Tried in Adversity) and An Honest Man.” Basil Montague was also a graduate of Cambridge and would become a distinguished barrister. His “adversities” included being the illegitimate, although acknowleged, son of the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montague and Wrangham moved in the same circles as Alderson and Godwin.

6. A Norwich native, William Taylor had shared a tutor with Amelia in their youth. In 1795 he was writing for the influential Monthly Magazine, as well as translating German works and composing his own poetry. Unfortunately, the poem written for the imprisoned radical Joseph Gerrald and the sonnet composed for Amelia remain unidentified. For further information on Gerrald, see Alderson's letter to Taylor dated August 26, 1794.

7. Amelia must have been in a particularly poetic frame of mind while writing this letter. There are several places where she quotes lines of verse and she records a conversation with Godwin about the eighteenth-century poets William Collins (1721-1759), Thomas Gray (1716-1771), and Charles Churchill (1731-1764). Here she alludes to Alexander Pope’s First Satire of the Second Book of Horace (1733). The lyric evocation of her “natal soil” may be an allusion to Robert Burns’s prose dedication to his Poems and Songs (1787). “Ah not for ever quaff at pleasure’s fount!,” which she puts in quotation marks, has not been traced.

8. The line "While oft he looked back, and was loth to depart" remains unidentified, but the phrase "loth to depart" is a common refrain in he ballad tradition.

9. Shakespeare’s Hamlet 3.2.66-69.

10. This postscript was written on the top of the letter but upside down.

11. This postscript was written on the envelope fold.