Amelia Alderson [Opie] to Susannah Taylor

[May 23,] 17961

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My dear Mrs. Taylor,

I was strangely ready to tell you of my pains, and I have been as strangely slow to tell you my pleasures — as I was so willing to give you uneasiness why should I not be equally willing to give you satisfaction? I can’t answer the question satisfactorily so I will leave it —

Your letter was every thing to me that letters could be — your conversation alone I could have been more — But when I received it the necessity for it was in some measure removed. I was in better health, consequently in better spirits, and the cold reserve of my manner had alarm’d my land-lady into a more promising mood. Since then, she has continued mending in temper — or rather I am more disposed to make allowances for her; because she is ill — nay in my opinion and alarmingly so —— and I have from comparison, and a sense of duty paid her for some time past, such attention, as has called forth all the affection she bears towards me to combat the native asperity of her disposition. ——Thus you see we are in a fair way to jog on quietly to the end of my visit, and we shall part good friends at last —Is not this very desirable?——I flatter myself with the idea that you hear most of my letters to my father; consequently that you know my movements, and can judge of the probable quantity of enjoyment I experience. I am now about to enjoy pleasant society in a pleasant country — one of the first luxuries at this season of the year but still I sigh for home, that is, I sigh for a Day or two of confidential intercourse with you and others, and then to wash off the dirt of London in the Sea of Cromer; to write poetry on the shore, to live over again every scene there that memory loves (and never did she love them so dearly as now;) and having rioted in all that my awakened fancy can give, return to Norwich, and endeavour to make one of my plays, at least, fit to be offered to one of the managers of the winter theatres. — Such is my plan; and in it I live, move, and have my being. — — ——

Bless me! what a busy place Norwich has been, and I not in it! but then I heard H. Tooke and Fox speak, and that's something. To be sure I had rather have heard Buonaparte address his soldiers, but as pleasure delayed is not pleasure lost,2 I may still hope to hear him, when the bonnet rouge has taken place of the Tiara, and a switch from the tree of liberty dangles from that hand which formerly wielded the crozier. ——

But alas! this is no laughing matter, or rather let us laugh while we can, for I believe an hour to be approaching when salut et fraternité will be the watchwords for civil slaughter throughout Europe, and the meridian glory of the sun of Liberty in France will light us to courting the past dangers and horrors of the republic in hopes of obtaining her present power and greatness — It will be an awful time — May I meet it with fortitude! but I shrink, and shrink only, from the idea of ties dear to my heart, which it will for ever break; of the friendships I must forego; of the dangers of those I love, and of friends equally dear to me, meeting in the field of strife opposed in mortal combat! — I feel heart-sick at such possibilities, yet which amongst us dare assert that such possibilities may not, ere long, be probable? —

Mrs. Imlay tells me, no words can describe the feelings which the scenes she witnessed in France gave birth to continually — It was a sort of indefinite terror — She was sitting alone when Imlay came in and said "I suppose you have not heard the sad news of to-day?" "What is it — is Brissot guillotined?" "Not only Brissot, but the one-and-twenty are." Amongst them she immediately could conjure up the faces of some lately endeared acquaintances, and before she was conscious of the effect of the picture, she sunk lifeless on the floor — and Mrs. Imlay is not a fine lady — if any mind could be unmoved at such things hers would but a series of horrors must have a very weakening tendency ——

I hope you like Thelwal — he is charmed with you. I am going to ask an odd question — but how go on Bell, and my Father? am I to be constantly tormented by the consciousness of fond weakness on her side, and something like coquetry on his? This embitters home to me, and my first feeling when I leave Norwich is thankfulness that I shall not for some months witness what I can not approve — —— When we meet I shall have much to tell you — Yesterday I had a letter from Catherine — she is well and happy, she says —3 but we'll read her letter together. Q— has called millions of times, and written to me once — answer him I will not; see him I will not, and so great is my contempt for the vermin that except when I see his card I forget he is in existence —— I wonder at my patience with him so long — Farewell! Mrs. Barbauld is more charming than ever — both he and she speak of you as you deserve. Love to Mrs. Beecroft, and Fanny Smith, and all the circle of home —


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 manuscript indicates that this letter was written on a Thursday but is otherwise undated. Internal evidence suggests that it was written not long after Alderson met Wollstonecraft in the Spring of 1796; she also alludes to the “pains” caused by living with the Battys, which were first described in the May 9, 1796 letter to Taylor. The postmark indicates that this letter was stamped on the 23rd. Employing the 1796 calendar, and assuming that the letter was sent to Taylor on the day it was written, it would have to have been written on July 23rd, but that doesn’t seem likely since Alderson refers to her tardiness in responding. She probably began the letter on Thursday, May 21st but didn’t send it out until two days later. The envelope fold is addressed to Mrs. John Taylor, St. Georges, Norwich. Topics in this letter: France, Memories/Nostalgia, Politics, and Writing.

2. Alderson Opie underlines both delayed and lost twice here.

3. The Catherine referred to here is almost certainly Catherine (Buck) Clarkson, who married the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in 1796. Buck Clarkson was a good friend of Susannah Taylor’s as well as Alderson Opie.