Amelia Opie to Susannah Taylor

December 12, 18001

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12th December 1800

Are you not very much obliged to me, my dear friend? — I am good for nothing else, so I am going to write to you! — But one ventures to show one's person in dishabille at a friend's fireside, and why not one's mind? And so I'm resolv’d, tho’ my mind is not just now smart enough for Parnassus, to exhibit it at St. George's — Here's weather! but you Norwich people can't, even from recollection, I think, conceive half the horror of a London fog — at present my husband's mind is more affected by it than my health (for it is a terrible time for a painter) and I hope I shall not suffer this winter, as I did last — for on the contrary, I continue to grow fat, and have an excellent appetite for everything but breakfast — and alas! I still "sigh and lament me in vain" for Mrs. Lessy's hot, half-baked cakes — 2 Fye upon her! — she has made me so dainty! 3 — My visit to Harleston was a very satisfactory one — it seem’d the burial of unpleasant feelings, and the resurrection of amiable ones. I left Eliza Merrick a plump image of health and content, and I found Betsy Fry yester-Evening at her own house a lean image of the same — How women vary! I am surprised to see the leanness of Mrs. Fry, and the fatness of Mrs. Merrick! formerly the lean one was fat, and the fat one was lean but now she is so very comfortably settled; no doubt she will soon grow fat again — In all Quaker houses there is a most captivating appearance of neatness, comfort, and affluence —— Betsy Fry is settled down as a married woman with everything requisite to domestic happiness about her. I wish her sisters were as well settled and Mr. Fry pleases me very much, and Bell Plumptre who accompanied us was equally pleased with him — Richard and I have frequent meetings now — On Sunday he is to breakfast with me, squire me to the Catholic chapel in King Street where French Bishops (and sometimes the Archbishop of Narbonne) officiate, and then eat his beef with us — To-morrow, if Anne Plumptre returns, I shall go with her into the pit of Drury Lane to see a new tragedy, the author nameless to me — tho’ known to others I find — and so I wish him to continue; for I should like to form of the piece, for the first time in my life, an unprejudiced judgment — Mrs. Siddons, indeed, told me not to go, because the play was stupid; but I have since recollected to counteract her influence, that Kemble says she knows nothing about a play — so I flatter myself I am still unprejudiced.4

I shall have left Norwich a month only next Sunday — and it seems to me three, at least — so much have I done, and seen since my return. Mr. Opie, too, has been constantly employ’d. The T[wisses] will be here in a month — that is a great joy to me — I purposely avoid saying anything of my evening at Mrs. Siddons' on Tuesday evening last, as I expect to fill my letter to my father with it tomorrow and you will hear it from him —

It is strange I should have written so far, without naming the subject on which I wanted particularly to talk to you — I suppose you attended poor Mrs. Martineau's deathbed and I feel a great curiosity to know some particulars of her last moments — were her children with her? and had she her senses to the last ? —5 I am uneasy about Mr. Opie's mother she has again taken to her bed, and I fear the long struggle she had with death last winter, tho’ she overcame him, will have weakened her too much to make it possible for her to endure another —— and I did so ardently wish to see her! ——

A committee of Academicians is to meet every Saturday till means are found to execute Mr. Opie's plan for a naval Pantheon; and this looks well — 6 Tell Mr. Smith I am tired of looking in vain for Vaughan, and I shall send to Viganoni before I see him.7 Just room for love to your circle, and my name,


1. The Huntington Library holds the manuscript of this letter (OP60) and it is reproduced in Brightwell’s Memorials with less editorial excision than usual (76-77). For the most part Brightwell restricts herself to deleting dashes and substituting conventional punctuation. Oddly enough, she also italicizes words not underlined in the original letter. The only significant deletion occurs towards the end in regards to Opie’s comments to Mr. Smith about Mr. Vaughan and Viganoni. Opie doesn’t open with a salutation but the letter is clearly addressed on the fold to “Mrs. John Taylor, St. George’s, Norwich.” The postmark is also legible and the date matches that on the letter itself: December 12, 1800. Topics: Illness; Marriage; Music; Quakers; Royal Academy; Theater.

2. An allusion to a popular song sometimes known as “Queen Mary’s Lamentation.” It appears in several collections of songs at the end of the eighteenth century. Interestingly enough, it also appears as part of George Thomson’s five-volume Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the voice (1818; 1826). Opie did not contribute to this collection but had several pieces in Thomson’s A Select Collection of Original Welsh Airs the year before.

3. It is tempting to speculate upon the Opie’s language use here. Given her underlining of the word “fat” and her discussion of what seems to be morning sickness and food cravings, it seems possible that she is alluding to a pregnancy, particularly given her speculations about the “fatness” and “leanness” of two newly married friends.

4. Opie typically refers to John Philip Kemble as “Kemble,” when she mentions Charles Kemble, she refers to him by his full name. By 1800, she knew their sister, Sarah Siddons, and both men quite well, although she was closest to their youngest sister, Frances Kemble Twiss. Fanny Twiss was painted by John Opie soon after their marriage, and is the subject of the first poem published under the author’s married name: “Lines Addressed by Mrs. Opie to her Husband, on his Painting the Picture of her friend Mrs. Twiss”.

5. Quite possibly Harriet Martineau’s paternal grandmother since her mother, Elizabeth Martineau, lived until 1848. The Martineaus were a large Norwich family, directly related to the Taylors. See Janet Ross, Three Generations of Englishwomen, T. Fisher Unwin, 1888.

6. John Opie’s plan for a Naval Pantheon preoccupied him during this period but went unrealized. Amelia included a letter written by John outlining the project in Lectures on Painting (1809), which was published after his death.

7. It seems likely that the Mr. Smith referred to here is Sir James Smith, Norfolk resident and founder of the Linnean Society, but also a writer of hymns. Opie knew him and his wife very well. Given that she refers to the Italian opera singer and her own voice teacher, Giuseppe Viganoni, it seems likely that the "Vaughan" she alludes to was Thomas Vaughan, a Norwich man and oratorio performer active in London in 1800.