Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

January 27, 18001


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27th of January, 1800

My Dear Friend,

* * * * John, I suppose, informed you he called on us; he promised to come and dine with us, but has not been since; and as I have been tied by the foot ever since the day after Christmas day, from having worn a tight bound shoe, which made a hole in my heel, I do not regret his false-heartedness, as when he does come we are to go church and meeting hunting. * * * * * Apropôs I was very sorry to hear of your husband's severe return of gout, but as he had a long respite before, I hope he will again. Severe illness has (I often think) on the frame, the same effect that a severe storm has on the atmosphere. I myself am much better in every respect, since my late indisposition, than I was before; and the mind is never perhaps so serene and tranquil, as when one is recovering from sickness. I enjoyed my confinement, as I was not, like your good man, in pain.2 My husband was so kind as to sit with me every evening, and even to introduce his company to my bedside. No less than three beaux had the honour of a sitting in my chamber. Quite Parisian you see, but I dare not own this to some women. I have led a most happy and delightful life since my return, and in the whole two months have not been out more than four times; so spouse and I had no squabbles about visiting, and that is the only thing we ever quarrel about. If I would stay at home for ever, I believe he would be merry from morning to night; and be a lover more than a husband! He had a mind to accompany me to an assembly in Nottingham place, but Mrs. Sharpe (a most amiable woman) frightened him, by declaring he should dance with her, if he did.

What the friendships of dissipated women are, Mrs. — going to a ball, while poor H. T. was dying, sufficiently proves.3 I remember with satisfaction that I saw her, and shook hands with her at the November ball. Indeed she had a heart; and I can't help recollecting that when I had the scarlet fever she called on me every day, regardless of danger, and sat at the foot of my bed. Besides, she was the friend of twenty years, and the companion of my childhood, and I feel the older I grow, the more tenderly I cling to the scenes, and recollections, and companions, of my early hours. When I now look at Mr. Bruckner's black cap, my memory gets astride on the tassel of it, and off she gallops at a very pleasant rate; wooden desks, green bags, blotted books, inked hands, faces, and gowns, rise in array before me.4 I see Mrs. Beecroft (Miss Dixon I should say) with her plump good-humoured face, laughing till she loses her eyes, and shakes the whole form; but I must own, the most welcome objects that the hoofs of memory's hobby-horse kick up, are the great B.'s, or bons, on my exercises! I do not choose to remember how often I was marked for being idle.* * So you have had riots. 5 I am glad they are over. Mrs. Adair called on me this morning, and she tells me that Charles Harvey was terribly alarmed after he had committed Col. Montgomery. A fine idea this gives one of the state of a town, where a man is alarmed at having done his duty!

I am very much afraid my spouse will not live long; he has gotten a fit of tidyness on him; and yesterday evening and this evening, he has employed himself in putting his painting-room to rights. This confirms what I said to him the other day; that almost every man was beau and sloven, at some time of his life. Charles Fox once wore pink heels; now he has an unpowdered crop. And I expect that as my husband has been a sloven hitherto, he will be a beau in future; for he is so pleased with his handyworks, and capers about, and says, "look there! how neat! and how prettily I have disposed the things! Did you ever see the like?" Certainly I never did, where he was, before. Oh! he will certainly be a beau in time. Past ten o'clock! I must now say farewell; but let me own that I missed you terribly when I was ill. I have no female friend and neighbour; and men are not the thing on such occasions. Besides, you, on all occasions, would be the female neighbour I should choose. Love to your spouse. Write soon, and God bless you.



Notes

1. There is no extant manuscript of this letter. Cecilia Brightwell reprints part of the letter in her Memorials (72-74) but indicates through the use of asterisks that she has reproduced only a fraction of the letter. Given her editorial excisions elsewhere in the correspondence it seems likely that this letter was also heavily edited. Brightwell identifies the letter as addressed to Taylor and it begins with Opie’s customary salutation to Taylor (“My dear friend”); all internal evidence points to Taylor as its recipient. Topics in this letter: Illness; Marriage; Politics: Social Engagements; Memories/Nostalgia.

2. I am unclear here as to the nature of Opie’s “confinement.” It is possible, given her language here, that she was recovering from a miscarriage but her insouciant tone would argue against such a reading.

3. Brightwell places a long em dash after “Mrs.” Here and does not identify H. T. Both would appear to be from Norwich, since Opie indicates that she knew them during her childhood.

4. Opie possibly refers here to the portrait John Opie made of Dr. Bruckner, who was Opie’s most beloved Norwich teacher. She included a poem to his memory in Lays for the Dead (1834).

5. Due to food shortages caused by the French Wars, political unrest and protest were fairly common during 1800 and 1801. Norwich’s woolen industries were negatively impacted during the wars and unemployment was significant. See The History of the City of Norwich (William Allen, 1869) and C. B. Jewson, The Jacobin City (Blackie and Son, 1975).