Amelia Alderson [Opie] to Susannah Taylor

Tuesday [April 1797]1

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Why have I not written to you? — It is a question I cannot answer — you must answer it yourself, but attribute not my silence to any diminution of affection for you — believe me, I still hear the kind fears you expressed for me when we parted, and still see the flattering tears that you shed when you bade me adieu — Indeed, I shall never forget them.—

I had resolved to write to you as soon as ever I had seen Richard, but it was a resolution made to be broken — like many others in this busy scene — had I written to you as soon as I left all those whom I have heard talk of, and praise you as you deserve, I should have ruined you in postage — Poor Mr. Carr is desperately in love with you, by his own confession, and his wife admires his taste — Mr. Godwin was much gratified by your letter, and he avowed that it made him love you better than he did before, and Mrs. Godwin was not surprised at it — by the bye, he never told me whether you congratulated him on his marriage or not; but now I remember, it was written before that wonder-creating event was known — Heigho! what charming things would sublime theories be, if one could make one's practice keep up with them — but I am convinced it is impossible, and am resolved to make the best of every day nature —

I shall have much to tell you in a tête à tête, of the Godwins etc. so much that a letter could not contain or do it justice — but this will be entre nous — I love to make observations on extraordinary characters, but not to mention those observations if they be not favorable — "Well — a whole page, and not a word yet of the state of her heart the subject most interesting to me" methinks I hear you exclaim — patience friend — it will come soon; but not go away soon, were I to analyze it, and give it you in detail — Suffice, that it is in the most comical state possible — but I am not unhappy — on the contrary, I enjoy everything, and if my head be not turned by the large draughts which my vanity is daily quaffing, I shall return to Norwich much happier than I left it — Mr. Opie, whose head, and heart are so excellent as to make me forget the coarseness of his voice and manner, and the ugliness of his face, has (but mum) been my declared lover almost ever since I came— 2 I was ingenuous with him upon principle, and I told him my situation relative to B:, and the state of my heart —— but all in vain, he said he was sure I did not actually love the gentleman whoever he was, and he should still persist — and would risk all consequences to his own peace — and so he did, and so he does— and I have not resolution to forbid his visits —is not this abominable? — nay more — were I not certain my Father would disapprove such, or indeed any connection for me, there are moments when, ambitious of being a wife, and mother, and of securing to myself a companion for life, capable of entering into all my pursuits, and of amusing me by his, I could almost resolve to break the fetters which my heart, not my mind has forged for me, relinquish too, the wide, and often aristocratic circle, in which I now move, and become the wife of a man, whom genius has raised from obscurity into fame and comparative affluence —— but indeed my mind is on the pinnacle of its health when I thus feel —— and on a pinnacle one can't remain long — but I had forgotten to tell you, the attraction Mr. O: held out, that staggered me beyond anything else —— it was, that if I was averse to leaving my Father, he would joyfully consent to his living with us —— What a temptation to me, who am every moment sensible that the claims of my Father will always be, with me, superior to any charms that a lover can hold out — often do I rationally, and soberly state to Opie the reasons that might urge [me] to marry him in time, and the reasons why I never could be happy with him, nor he with me —— but it always ends in his persisting in thinking my heart, and not my head prefers him, and in his willingness to wait for my decision, even while I am seriously rejecting him, and telling him I have decided — I have told Mr. B: of this offer, and that I can imagine circumstances under which I should accept it —— tho’ none would lead me to it, were he at liberty to offer me his hand, and my Father approved of the connection. He behaves very well, but his letters ever since have been full of passion, and expressive of a mind ill at ease, and attributing his distress to my late letters — but enough of this — till, as I hope I shall, I hear from you — let me only add, that my thoughts of taking Mr. Opie, are, in comparison to those of continuing to reject him as one to a thousand —— Mr. Holcroft too has had a mind to me, but he has no chance —

May I trouble you to tell my Father, that while I was out yesterday Hamilton called and left a note, simply saying — "Richardson says he means to call on you. I have seen him this morning" — before I seal this letter I hope to receive my farce from him.

Bell has just said, “give my love to Mrs. Taylor” — she distresses me sometimes by her absence, and her tears, but on the whole she is better than I expected — I will put my letter by — till the boy returns from Richardson —

I have been capering about the room for joy at having gotten my farce back — now idleness adieu! — When [two words illegible here] and I hope held sweet converse together! —


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 fold is addressed to “Mrs. John Taylor, St. George’s, Norwich” but does not open with a salutation, and the top of the letter simply reads “Tuesday.” Cecilia Brightwell added a 1797 date to her heavily redacted transcription of the letter in her Memorials of the author (61-63). With magnification it is possible to make out an “A” on the letter’s postmark, only half of which is visible. Given that Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were married in late March of 1797, it seems likely that this letter was composed in April of 1797. Cecilia Brightwell deletes sections in which Alderson writes about John Opie’s courtship and her preference for the married Robert Batty. The manuscript itself is full of dashes and crossed out words, apparently done at the time of writing. Brightwell moderates the author’s enthusiastic style throughout the memoir, consistently deleting dashes and inserting conventional punctuation. For critical discussions of this letter see Shelley King, “Portrait of a Marriage: John and Amelia Opie and the Sister Arts,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture (2011) and Roxanne Eberle, “Amelia and John Opie: Conjugal Sociability and Romanticism’s Professional Arts,” Studies in Romanticism (2014). For analysis of Brightwell's editorial practices, see Isabelle Cosgrave, "Untrustworthy Reproductions and Doctored Archives: Undoing the Sins of a Victorian Biographer" in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, eds. Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead (Ashgate, 2013 pp. 61-74).

2. Brightwell excises Alderson Opie’ unflattering description of her future husband here, as well as her allusion to “B” (Robert Batty). All subsequent references to Batty and her preference for him are also edited out of the Brightwell transcription.